Your small group is walking on a narrow game trail; the air is cool and smells of moss and fallen leaves. Nyx draws the skirt of her dress close to her as she moves up to where Ravdet is talking quietly with Gabriel.
Gabriel furrows his brow thoughtfully, “So, you’re saying that only some people have this latent psionic power?”
Ravdet nods, “Yeah, a few’re naturally canny at it. There’s a… resonance that a mindhacker like me can detect. And if you have the spark, I can show you how to harness it.” Gabriel laps into a stoic quiet over this information.
“Excuse me, Ravdet,“ Nyx says quietly, falling into step beside him, “if you wouldn’t mind telling me, how did the three of you come to be travelling together?”
“Well, the dark of that isn’t too much of a tale, I’m afraid, but Tellanvar spins it best,” Ravdet says, motioning for his friend.
“I was born on the rugged earthbergs of Ysgard; we bariaur are a nomadic people, both due to our natural inclination and for the protection it offers. However, in the second winter after my horns’ curling, my flock and I were trapped in a mountainous region by a savage blizzard. The freezing winds slammed us against the rocky walls and our normally colorful coats were painted white by the snow and ice.”
Tellanvar shivers at the memory before continuing, “We were exhausted, hungry, and lost, but the Norns had a different fate for us. I was at the lead, carving a path through the deep snow, when a clear voice spoke to me, despite the howling gale. At first, I thought I had gone barmy, for an image appeared in my mind of a nearby cave, a safe place for my flock and I. Despite my fears of deception by some malign fey spirit, I accepted the risk and followed the path laid out in my head. Soon enough, I spotted the cave opening, and was surprised when we found a warm fire and an unlikely pair: a human and a githzerai.”
“Kelsk and I met in Sigil several years before that, through a mutual friend,” Ravdet interjects, “but we found the cave by Kelsk’s bloody tracking, otherwise we’d have made it in the dead-book, sure as Sigil.”
Tellanvar continues, “We weathered the storm in that small cave, and I soon came to admire our two rescuers. We travelled together until the spring at which point they parted ways with my flock; I decided to go with them, and have been grateful to have them as my friends, ever since.” A solemn silence descends over the small procession.
“Now if you want to scan to a rum tale, let me tell you about the time Kelsk and I escape from a Hardheads’ belly of the beast by dressing up as washer-women,” Ravdet begins with a grin. Soon peals of laughter fill the forest.
Mera glances behind her again, making sure her sister is well and not falling behind. Her eyes return to the figure ahead of them. Kelsk is at the vanguard and seems to know where is going without the typical signs—such as landmarks and the sun—that are familiar to her. She increases her stride to catch up with him.
“So, hypothetically, if you met a girl who had been promised in marriage to someone else through no fault of her own before she was born in order to fulfill a peace compact written thousands of years ago but then she ran away because she wanted to find her own destiny outside of the wonderful, perfect, boring world she was brought up in, would you ever consider… um… would you ever think about… um… do you think you could… um… teach her how to fight?” Mera finished the question drawing in a quick breath.
Kelsk pauses mid-step and narrows his amber eyes to stare at her. “Freedom is worth fighting for; worth dying for. Being weak is no excuse; you can’t always expect others to save you.” He nods at her briefly, then turns back to the path ahead.
Coverdale was scanning the trees and the path behind them. He could see Mera up ahead, but he is determined to ensure that no one—or thing—creeps up following them. He hears Nyx ask Ravdet, “What made you decide to rescue us when you saw that those horrible lizard things had captured us? It must have been a very dangerous thing for you to try; there were many more of them than there were you.”
Ravdet nods thoughtfully, “True, those cross-trading khaasta were numerous, but we couldn’t leave you cutters in chains. Tellanvar and I are both Indeps, and Kelsk doesn’t suffer slavers either, so it wasn’t a question of whether we’d help… just how we could get you all out safely.”
“Indeps?” Nyx asks.
“Yeah, we’re just a group of free-thinkers who don’t appreciate sodding bullies throwing their weight around and telling bashers what to do. We’re no Faction, though some try to lump us in with that lot. And as for Kelsk, well, his entire race was once enslaved by the illithids, and they only won their freedom after millennia of forced servitude. It’s a sore subject with githzerai, because of the subsequent civil war that split them and the githyanki apart, so it’s better to keep your bone-box shut about it.”
Coverdale moves up to Ravdet, “I don’t know anyone here. How can I tell the good guys from the bad guys?”
“Well, there’s no easy answer to that. Most things have natures that make them predictable, but rarely you’ll be surprised by an apparent kindness from a fiend, or a peel from a celestial. So it’s best to remain peery until you can tumble to whether a basher wants to put you in the dead-book, give you the laugh, or just leave well enough alone.”
Kelsk purposively strides back to the group, “It will be dark soon. We should make camp.”
Later that evening, a small fire burns in a cleared-out glade. Mera holds onto the grip of a practice sword while Kelsk is explaining to her the finer points of sword play (“Stick them with the pointy end.”) and Coverdale is nearby watching silently. Gabriel is turning a few hares on a spit over the fire, while Nyx, Adso, and Ravdet are sitting close to the fire.
Adso gazes thoughtfully at his prayer books in his hands. He turns to Ravdet, “Both Hinold and you have claimed that Aoskar is dead in this world. Is it possible that he still lives in another plane? If he is truly dead, how can I see the body?”
Ravdet looks at the young novice, visibly shaken from the events and revelations of the past week. He smiles kindly, “I’m no greybeard when it comes to Powers, and growing up on my Prime world, I was taught that our Powers had abandoned us. What I do know is what I’ve been told. Long ago, Aoskar was the Power of portals. His followers raised a great temple in Sigil, and proclaimed that the use of any portal was worship to Aoskar. One of the Lady’s own servants, the dabus Fell, turned stag and swore allegiance to him. The Lady didn’t like this obviously, and she razed Aoskar’s Great Temple of Doors, flayed all of his followers, and put him in the dead-book. The remains of his body would be floating somewhere in the Astral, as that’s where all dead Powers end up. The ruined temple is now the Athar’s; they use it as proof of the fallibility of the Powers. I’ve heard the chant that Fell was left alive by the Lady, but most avoid him for fear of retribution by Her.”
Adso presses, “But is it possible to bring a god back to life? For by worship he is not truly dead.”
Ravdet’s face becomes serious, “Bar that, and shake such ideas out of your brain-box. In Sigil, any worshipper of Aoskar found is scragged and given the rope. And you don’t want to involve yourself with any plot that would draw the Lady’s ire. You’d end up in the mazes or worse.”
The next morning the party sets out again, quiet and solemn. Kelsk was in the lead, followed by Mera and Coverdale; Ravdet was talking in low tones to Gabriel; and Adso was walking next to Tellanvar and Nyx.
Mera slows her pace to get closer to Ravdet, and waits for a break in their discussion, whispering “Ravdet, where can I take my sister so that she’ll be safe while I’m figuring out how to get her back to our home?”
Ravdet’s eyes shift slightly towards Nyx. “I’m not sure you’ll find the same safety that you’ve described as in Kethencio. But some places are safer than others. Your top-shelf bet would be to find a quiet berg on one of the Upper Planes. Unfortunately, I don’t know any close-by, direct way to get there from here. As for help to get home, I’d recommend you head to Sigil. There must be some greybeard who can help you there.”
Gabriel added, “You mentioned that different Powers have different goals and some provide abilities to those that worship them. Are there any Powers that would empower me quickly in return for my loyalty?”
Ravdet shrugs, “I’d always be peery when making deals with Powers, especially when what they offer seems too good. But while the Powers themselves are barred from Sigil, temples to them do exist there. So, if you wanted, you could find ones that suit you—whether it’s ones that value a keen mind or those that appreciate a more martial approach to solving problems.”
Adso speaks up suddenly, “Speaking of powers, who created the planes? In our religion, Aoskar created everything.”
Tellanvar laughs, “And likely, if you ask ten different proxies, you’d get ten different answers. Each pantheon—those are groups of powers that band together typically through familial ties or common history—claim that they were the creators of the multiverse.”
“Not to mention,” Ravdet adds, “if you were to ask the modrons, fiends, celestials, or any of the Factions, they’d each say something different. Everyone has an opinion, and who’s to say who is right and who is wrong?”
Up ahead, the forest gives way to an open clearing. Many wooden houses stand together. People are milling about: women hanging laundry, children running through the dirt streets, farmers tending their crops and livestock.
Nyx tugs softly at Tellanvar’s arm, “Tellanvar, where are you going when you leave the ‘ant hill’? We don’t know where we should go from here, or what we should do.”
Tellanvar looks kindly at her, seeing the worry in her face, “Don’t you worry, we still have weeks to go before we reach the portal that leads to Oinos. We’ll talk in town after everyone gets some rest, food, and a hot bath. But Ravdet, Kelsk, and I won’t leave you hipped. Ravdet’s a well-lanned blood; he’ll think of something.”