Smoke covers the world. An ancient square tower, weakened through years of neglect, rises above. Next to it lays the source of at least some of the smoke: a pyre far taller than any man or elk. Eyes peer from it center, staring at the corpses that lie before it. Some are humans, others beasts or worse. At the center lie four bodies: a blue-tinted elven archer, bow broken at his side, skull smashed and his silver hair mangled with blood. Next to him, a human woman, flesh burnt, sword still in hand, a shield etched with a hammer and scales lying at her side. Then, a halfling with the hair of a young prince, smiling even in death, and clutching a warhammer and shield almost too big for his hands. Beneath his pierced skin appear flashes of what came before, the coarse skin and grizzled beard of an elderly dwarf. Then, the last corpse. Blood soaked black leather covers the grey-skinned, purple-haired carcass of a stranger to this plane; though long dead from the sword buried in her flesh, her pupil-less eyes still stare blankly to the north, longing for what could not save them. A creature steps out of the flames. Everything is fire.
A young girl screams and rushes to her mother. As her daughter begins to describe the final corpse, Fennor grips her axe and orders her daughter, “Tell Padraich to assemble The Elk. We leave at dawn.”
Drak’Thal and Traelle trudge southward in the heat. Ahead, Rinn and Alatar wilt in the sun. As they draw closer to their destination, the air grows thick with smoke and begins to fill their lungs. Soon, they can barely see more than a few feet in front of them. They stop at the crest of a ridge and gaze at a large barren opening in front of them. The elf and dwarf suddenly each feel the tip of a blade on their backs. They turn ready to fight but find Krunak and Shava standing there with a warning: “Try to be more inconspicuous next time.”
After sending Shava back to the ship, the half-orc begins to describe what the two found during their scouting mission. ‘From what we can tell,” he informs the Keepers, “it looks like there is—was—a central tower with an outer protective wall to the far south. The tower itself is under repair; there is scaffolding all around it. There are various camps and they seem to shift. Can’t tell whether they are all enemies or not however I did see that there are some camps that have druids in them. I don’t think a druid would be part of the fire, especially with the destruction further south. So I don’t know if they are planning a ruse here or what but I venture to say that not everyone her is your enemy. There are a number of bonfires that burn along the hillside. Be careful of them. They can be a little wild.” As we gaze out to the square tower, we see a huge fire and seven bonfires. As the Keepers look around, Krunak hands Rinn a map and says, "Well, that is what we were able to get out of this. Not everyone is your enemy. Needless to say don’t go in with swords ablazing. Conserve your energies for whatever is at the tower. Is there anything you need from me captain?
Alatar winks at Drak’Thal and mentions the events at the ranch. “Shava,” Drak’Thal beings, “sent us to the Nettlebees. It was a trap and the information came from her. Keep an eye on her ask her about it maybe; it’s not that I don’t trust her. "
“Will do,” Krunak replies, “however I will just say Shava has bled for me more times than I have bled for her and she has definitely beld for Klnie more times than anyone else I know.. May your swords be swift. “I don’t have a sword,” replies the dwarf. As Krunak turns and leaves, he gestures back at his captain.
After a brief discussion with her fellow Keepers on how to proceed, Rinn walks towards the first camp. As she approaches the bonfire, she sees four shadows through the haze. She continues until she sees a tent, four humans, and two giant elk chewing whatever they can find. She moves closer still. The humans seem not to notice but an elk, apparently smelling her, walks up to the Shadar-Kai and nuzzels her. Rinn pets it. As she does so, the four robed humans raise their heads and look directly at the intruder. One asks in a strange voice, “Are you here to witness the rite?” Puzzled, Rinn replies, “The rite?” A male voice, obviously stoned, replies, “Yeah. The rite. Come on in man.” Addressing the man, Rinn asks, “When is it? Should I get my friends?” “Sure,” he replies. “Okay. I’ll be right back.” “That’s good man.”
Rinn turns and walks back to her companions. Unbeknownst to her, the elk she was petting follows. While Rinn is informing the rest of the Keepers of the camp and the rite, the elk walks up to her before turning its head and looking forlornly at its new friend. It then leads the entire party back to the camp. As they approach through the smoke, the strange man tells the Shadar-Kai, “Looks like that one likes you. That’s good.” “Does it have a name?” she asks. “I honestly don’t even remember its name? A perplexed Rinn asks, “Wait! Did it tell you its name?” “Yeah Steve or something.”
“So what’s this rite you’re talking about?” Rinn asks.
“This dude, Elizar Dryflagon, he’s this druid right and he says that he knows this this rite of the wicker giant supposed to like restore nature’s balance in the troubled regions. That big fire over there, we’re thinking its supposed to stop it. He is trying to convince some of us to join his order. We hope to get in but you know its limited.”
After a few moments of discussing the order, Drak’Thal address the man “You a druid?”
Increasingly reminded of some of the druids he knew in Kelvular, Alatar asks, “Where you from?”
“We’re from around here….You guys want some food and drink?”
“Got any ale?” Drak’Thal quickly pipes up.
“Fancy some Brandy?”
Drak’Thal nods and, after the druid hands him a bottle, takes a drink.
After seeing her dwarf friend satiated, Rinn asks, “So what’s your name?”
“I’m Varigo this is Mahoon, this right here is my goddess Iniri and this wild thing over here is Fariya whom Mahood has bonded—spiritually—they share bodies with others—the love man. Lots of love… So you guys here to join or what?”
At this question, Alatar replies “Maybe. We’re here visiting the southern continent and…uhhhh.”
“Righteous,” Varigo interrupts.
“Yeah” replies Varigo as he begins rhythmically petting the Elk.
“What is over there?” Drak’Thal asks.
“I think some other camps? I don’t know.”
“Got any friends here?”
“Not personally but these three people here, “Varigo replies to the Dwarf while still righteously petting the Elk and drinking brandy. “Up ahead is the tower.”
Apparently, growing impatient with the conversation, DRak’Thal asks, “Can you tell us anything more about this cult?”
“Dude,” Varigo intones, “I don’t think this is a cult.”
“Welll,” Drak’Thal stutters, “not the cult but the other people here.”
Before the Keepers leave, Drak’Thal asks them about his charm. “There is some nature in here.,” Varigo replies. “Are you a druid? Want me to check this out for you?”
The dwarf hands the druid the charm who investigates it. “Dude this does stuff to you when you die? I don’t know what but something. Good stuff.”
“What can be good when you die?” Drak’Thal asks.
“I don’t know man Just feels like it would be good to die. I think maybe you become one with nature. I don’t know.”
After a few more minutes of conversation, Drak’Thal address Varigo, “Thanks for the brandy.”
“Yeah righteous brother.”
“Real quick before you go. Varigo says, “if you see any of these sage bushes anywhere let us know. It looks just like brush. We use it for medicinal purposes.”
The Keepers quickly agree and as they turn to explore the rest of the camp, Alatar says “Praise Corellon” and the druid replies and praise be what’s her name. Sehanine—yeah moon chick. Talk to you later brother.”
Rinn leaves the rest of the Keepers near the central path as she makes her way to the charted location of the second camp where she finds two druids named Aylbrith and Ingulf and a giant bear they trapped. Less stoned and friendly than their fellow druids, they appear suspicious of Rinn so she returns to her fellow Keepers who decide to proceed to the next ring of camps before returning.
At the third camp, Rinn asks Alatar if he can go with her. He agrees and the two of them decide eo enter the camp openly and pretend to be interested in the rite. The plan immediately begins to fail. The thief and ranger expected to find another set of druids but instead they found two rugged, hairy ass shirtless humans sitting around a fire. “Hail, may Corellon Larathian and Sehanine Moonbow bless you,” Alatar yells. One of the men, obviously annoyed quickly replies, “You one of those fucking druids?” Alatar says yes but the conversation quickly declines as the men remain suspicious of their visitors.
After briefly informing Traelle and Drak’Thal about the two men, Rinn and Alatar, venture to the next camp. Again, they try to approach openly and again, it fails. This time, they find four men, three dozing off and one awake leaning on a staff apparently bored. They quietly approach the man on the staff and greet him. The two quickly discover why the man seems so bored. He has been there for ten days and is growing increasingly irritated with the situation. He too, is suspicious of the Rinn and Alatar, especially after they tell him they are from Kieria and are also trying to get into the cult. Eventually, the man yells, “Why don’t you just leave?” Rinn agrees but Alatar, trying to maintain the ruse, yells back at her, “No. We’re not leaving. Not after we have come all this way!” Rinn, unconvincingly replies, “Fine, we’re not going to take your spot man.” At this, the man raises his sword as his three companions rise and draw their weapons.
Before the man in front of her has a chance to swing, Rinn pulls out her short sword and dagger and stabs him twice. Hearing the sounds of battle through the smoke, Drak’Thal and Traelle rush to their friends’ aid. Drak’Thal creates a spiritual weapon behind the man; it swings its warhammer and find flesh. Alatar pulls out his bow and quickly kills the first man. Then he turns and fires another arrow at a second adversary. Two of the remaining cultists graze Rinn and Alatar with their attacks while the third makes a strange hand signal. Drak’Thal’s spiritual weapon swings at the man in front of it but misses and immediately disappears. Rinn, retaliates against the man who hit her and severely damages him. Alatar pulls out his scimitar and shortsword and swings at the man in front of him before turning and firing an arrow into the haze near where he thinks an enemy stands. Miraculously, he hits him.
As the original group of prospective cultists beings to whither, other creatures join the fray. Two werewolves that look suspiciously like the hairy men at the adjoining camp arrive first. One approaches Alatar and slashes at the elf with his claws; he misses. The other attacks Rinn and hits but she successfully dodges the attack thanks to an aura of protection emanating from the paladin. Traelle tries to attack the beast in front of her but only manages one hit with her two swings. The man in the back casts a spell that unleashes a sleet of ice across the battlefield, extinguishing the fire. As the bonfire goes out, two wargs, orcs, and bugbears arrive from a neighboring camp. Drak’Thal immediately falls on the ice but is able to stand and cast a spell that quickly injures all the surrounding enemies.
For a while, the new enemies and the sleet turn the tide of battle in favor of the camp’s residents. While the wargs distract the Keepers, the orcs and bugbears, and one of the werewolves slice through Rinn, Drak’Thal, and Traelle. Only Rinn’s dagger seems able to injure the wolf in front of her. Alatar repeatedly swings at the wolf in front of him but though his blades find flesh, they do little harm to the creature. His fangs dig deep into the elf’s flesh and the elf immediately feels sick. Realizing his swords are doing minimal harm to the creature, the elf pulls out his bow and silver arrows. Even with the wolfman nearly on top of him, he launches an arrow into its flesh. Finally, he feels blood drip from the creature and realizes how he will have to attack the creature in the future.
In the larger melee, Rinn, Traelle, and Drak’Thal battle the werewolf, wargs, orcs, bugbears, and the remaining robed figure who throws a dagger of ice at Rinn and Drak’Thal. After several successive hits, Drak’Thal collapses. Risking an attack from Traelle, an orc steps up and bludgeons the collapsed dwarf. But as soon as the life escapes from the dwarf the talisman given to him by Javik begins to glow. Energy covers his body, transforming his flesh. Soon where a dwarf once lay dying is a halfling with immaculate hair. He stands and immediately begins to cast spells that look familiar to the rest of the Keepers.
Rejuvenated by the new addition to the battle, the Keepers slaughter the remaining creatures one by one. Alatar finally kills the werewolf in front of him, and turns his bow on the robed figure and is able to help his friends with the remaining beasts. As the final creature falls, Alatar, Rinn, and Traelle turn to stare at the tiny figure nowin their midst. Alatar raises his bow and aims at the strange man before noticing that the rune that once graced Drak’Thal, is now located on the considerably smaller forehead. Drak’Thal quickly yells at his friends and they realize who it is as the halfling begins to explore his new body.
After some debate, Alatar uses the charm gifted him by Javik to cure himself as the Keepers rest to recover from the battle. As they rest, they discuss how to proceed. Remembering Krunak’s words to conserve their energy and what happened in Sacred Stone when they tarried too long, they agree to bypass the remainder of the camp and proceed directly to the tower where they may find the orb quickly and decapitate the snake of fire that encircles them. Alatar takes a sprig of spruce and the ashes of a burned leaf of mistletoe from his pack and mumbles an incantation. Soon, a veil of shadows and silence radiates from his body and engulfs the Keepers. Under the cover of smoke and darkness, they sneak into the heart of the camp. They pass a giant pyre and a pit of hellhounds and walk to the scaffolding near the back of the tower. They start to climb.
As they approach the first landing, arrows rain down upon them. Rinn manages to dodge the one aimed at her while Drak’Thal and Traelle block a few with their shields but the damage is done; they are discovered. An alarm sounds and, almost instantaneously, the Keepers hear the roar of beasts and the ring of steel.
They fight bravely but wave after wave of combatants from almost all the fires of the camp attack the Keepers. The druids and their massive bear, a host of giant bats, and more orcs and bugbears surround them until at least an enemy steps from the pyre: a fire elemental. The Keepers spells are quickly used up; they are bloodied and damaged. As they are close to falling, they see Varigo Mahoon, Iniri, Fariya, Steve, and the nameless elk walk into the center of the former tower. Steve, sensing that his new friend is in danger, immediately signals to the druids that something is wrong with the situation. The druids take his advice and join the fight against the fire cult. Unfortunately, their healing and natural spells are not enough and soon the Keepers are surrounded once again.
Alatar, collapses while trying to fight his way to Rinn and fulfill the oath he swore to her on the ship. Drak’Thal delights in his newfound ability to dart around the battlefield beneath the fray but he too eventually falls. As all seems lost, they hear the sound of the horns approach from the north. The Uthgardt, lead by Fennor, ride into the camp and slay every remaining enemy. Miraculously no one, not even the gravely wounded Traelle, dies.
As Krunak and Shava, who heard the battle from their camp, walk into the ruined tower, Fennor addresses the Keepers. “You should have died today. My daughter had a vision and saw it.” She then truns to Rinn and tell the Shadar-Kai, “your friend now owes us a boon.”
In the day that follows, the Keepers search the tower and find the object that eluded them at Sacred Stone: an orb. Entrusting it to Krunak, they walk to the ship where they are greeted by the crew. After reintroducing Drak’Thal, they set sail for home. Weeks after a brief stop at the pirate kingdom, the Keeper’s Oath sails into the Wyrmwood harbor. There, sitting on a horse all alone at the dock is Kline…