Our story begins in Ambercrest, a decrepit city that was once ruled by great and powerful lords but has since fallen into a state of darkness and neglect. Six letters were sent by the merchant Dirk requesting assistance with a startling problem which had recently come to his attention. Each was addressed personally: one to Thia, a half-elf shaman living in the crumbled Ambercrest slums; another to Gdom, the bugbear fighter and Thia’s neighbor; one to the deva wizard Idria, thought dead after 50 years spent studying in a secluded forest monastery; another to Maruk Forgeborn, a mul barbarian working in his uncle’s Ambercrest smithy; one delivered to the half-orc ranger Ugarth at the gates of Ambercrest as he coincidentally arrived from Moorhaven; and the last to the gnoll fighter Mognyr, native to the plains surrounding Moorhaven.
Thia, Gdom, Maruk, Idria, and Ugarth made their way to meet Dirk at the Wheezy Warden tavern, only to find that he was not there at the time of meeting. Wary of the other patrons, including three tipsy soldiers, an eladrin woman, and a silent cloaked figure in the corner, they were able to identify each other with the help of the halfling barkeep. He assured the party that Dirk was on his way, but after a half an hour the merchant had still not arrived. They had just decided to leave the tavern and were on their way out the door when a loud commotion brewed outside.
From the window they saw the townspeople of Ambercrest running about in a frenzied panic, bumping into each other and pointing, terrified, upwards. The adventurers rushed outside to see what was happening and immediately noticed the house of Lord Crimsonhelm uprooted and rising straight into the sky.
Compounding the confusion, a struggle broke out in the crowd nearby and the party observed a balding, blond human man struggling against five guards bearing the green raven crest of Talonguard. He immediately recognized the group and called for help — the man was none other than Dirk. Accused of treason and conspiring against the aristocracy, Dirk begged for mercy and claimed innocence. When he finally offered to double the group’s pay, they rushed to his aid and into battle with the Talonguard soldiers.
After successfully defeating the soldiers (in spite of some drunk reinforcements from the tavern), the group faced a much greater surge of warriors as the forces of Lord Crimsonhelm arrived on the scene to restore order. Just as they arrived, a booming voice spoke from the floating Crimsonhelm mansion itself:
“People of Ambercrest, calm yourselves. There is nothing to fear. It is I, your ruler Lord Crimsonhelm speaking. News of discontent has reached me here at the noble House of Crimsonhelm, discontent with inaction and stale leadership and policies. Out of respect and mourning for my late father Lord Gregory Crimsonhelm, I have waited the appropriate two month period to begin my time as Lord of Ambercrest. Today marks the dawn of a new era. Today begins the rise of Ambercrest to new heights and a glorious new age. For too long brute force and corruption has ruled this city. Today, it stops. Today, Ambercrest rises and the people will know true glory.”
The mob was silenced, if only by shock and awe. Dirk, Thia, Idria, Gdom, Maruk, and Ugarth agreed to come quietly with the Crimsonhelm guards. They were shackled and led through the streets of Ambercrest, past the arcane Academy and through the slums to the crumbling remnants of an old lord’s house. Thia and Ugarth, the more perceptive members of the group, noticed that the eladrin woman they had seen in the tavern was watching them from the shadows. There they were led into the basement and through a glowing blue archway marked with runes. Dirk was led down another hallway, and the rest of the group was taken to a dungeon and locked together in a cell.
The dungeon was deserted except for the party and another cell, occupied by a sleeping half-orc. After several unsuccessful attempts to wake the sleeping half-orc, Idria traumatized him with loud arcane noises and kept him from sleeping. Named Garun, he could unfortunately be of no help. Ugarth noticed that the cell they were being kept in was considerably weaker than the other cells and attempted to break out with some small success before the rest of the party convinced him to simply wait for someone to come.
After a short wait, the party was greeted by a tall, slim man who introduced himself as Katu, adviser to Lord Crimsonhelm. He was foreign, with pointed ears and skin that was sallow and tattooed around his temples, but none of the group could identify his race. Katu answered the party’s questions cordially, but otherwise remained quiet as he led them to Lord Crimsonhelm’s chambers. On the way they passed tapestries depicting scenes of glorified battles, all featuring red-helmed knights wearing a red four-pointed star on their tabards, and polished suits of armor on display.
They met Lord Crimsonhelm contemplating a similar tapestry hanging in his chamber. He wore a long, deep crimson robe over garments more suited to a casual merchant than a lord, with a slightly too-large cap perched jauntily on his head. After a moment’s delay he turned to speak:
“Ah, welcome, my guests! I am deeply sorry indeed for the misunderstanding earlier; you were not to be kept waiting in the dungeon. Dirk has explained everything… the incident was nothing more than miscommunication between lords. I do hope you understand.” He glanced at Katu, who nodded placidly.
“Who is that knight in the tapestry?” asked one of the party.
“Yes… that is my late father,” Crimsonhelm answered with a grim smile. “He was indeed a strong man.”
“Where is Dirk?” the group inquired with a hint of suspicion. “Is he alright?”
Crimsonhelm replied, “Yes, Dirk has just been sent back to his shop. A little worse for the wear, I’m afraid, but we have done our best for him.” His response proved sincere even to the most insightful and suspicious members of the party.
Idria then inquired about how magic was being used to keep the mansion afloat. Crimsonhelm insisted that the magic was too complicated to explain in the time that they had, and that even he did not fully understand the intricacies behind the rituals, but regarded the wizard with great excitement and admiration.
“I am always eager to discuss the arcane arts with other enthusiasts,” he said, "but I’m afraid I can get quite carried away, and we have other business to attend to. I am very impressed by the skill you all displayed in battle today… though not as impressive as my own guard, Lord Talonguard’s men are not a force to be taken lightly.
“I am prepared to offer you work myself: prestigious work that will greatly benefit Ambercrest. Now, I understand that Dirk has offered you all work with him. Let us consider Dirk’s mission a little test. When you have completed his task, return to me and we will speak further about this mission.”
Maruk and Thia were particularly enthusiastic during their discourse with Crimsonhelm and were very interested in his offer. The rest of the party agreed that they would go see Dirk and complete his mission.
“Thank you, good gentlemen. Ladies. It is always reassuring to know one has competent friends. After all, the world is changing….” Crimsonhelm bid the group farewell and Katu led them back out through the glowing, blue archway.
They emerged on the ground in the slums near the crumbling remains of southwest wall. As they made their way towards Dirk’s shop in the merchant’s quarter, suddenly Thia felt an agile form push past her and slip her purse into its hand.
“Hey!!” Thia cried, turning towards the culprit. A shadow bolted down into a nearby alley and around the corner, out of sight. Thia and the rest of the group gave chase. Just before going down the alley, Ugarth spotted a burly half-orc turning the corner into a neighboring alley.
As Thia turned the corner she saw the same eladrin woman from the Wheezy Warden standing before her. She was unarmed to the best of the party’s perception and she held hands up in a gesture of surrender. Thia’s purse lay on the ground before her. Ugarth drew his bow with an arrow pointed directly at the eladrin’s face.
“I wish you no harm,” she said calmly, “but you are going to have to come with me.”