Tasker is a myth among explorers. According to the tales, this brilliant gnome was driven from House Sivis when he sought to expose secrets that had been sealed by his house. Some say he was killed at this time. But others claim that he wanders the world, passing his knowledge to those who need it. This dispatch could be found under a rock where the party chooses to make camp. It could be found tied to the leg of a bird. Is it sheer coincidence that the party acquires this knowledge? Or is Tasker pointing them toward their destiny?
When the PCs acquire the parchment, read the following:
This weathered parchment bears the arcane mark of the winged eye.
If a PC can make a successful DC 15 Knowledge (nobility and royalty), Knowledge (local), or Knowledge (arcana) check, read the following:
Those versed in the lore of the dragonmarked houses recognize this symbol as the sigil of Tasker, excoriate of House Sivis.
The people of the Five Nations know little of Valenar, and if you intend to travel to Taer Valaestas, you would do well to learn the history of this land. Human, elf, or Khoravar, the people of Valenar are proud folk, and their ways are quite different from those of the Five Nations. The differences between villages are remarkable; the khunan people of Ariolan still speak the Old Common tongue their ancestors carried from Sarlona, while Moonshadow is a new settlement founded by House Lyrandar and populated entirely by the Khoravar.
Valenar is home to two sorts of people: the restless and the anchored. The warbands of the Valaes Tairn remain in constant motion, traveling along the Old Road and through the wilds. Even those who serve the Darkwood Crown as defenders of the kingdom rarely dine in the villages they protect, preferring to live off the land using their skills and cualra. But while you may not see elves in the villages of Valenar, you will certainly encounter a warband before you have spent a day in the realm. Expect to be stalked by the Tairnadal as you travel across the land. Some will act openly, while others will watch you from the shadows. Unless you actually seek battle with the Valaes Tairn, your wisest course of action is to ignore any provocation. Act with humility. Conceal what gifts you have, and pretend that you do not see their hidden scouts. Don't make the mistake of thinking yourself so mighty that the elves pose no threat to you; it was this pride that laid low the giants of Xen'drik. Your magic and mettle may be more than sufficient to overcome a warband in fair combat. But the Valaes Tairn love nothing more than to find a worthy foe, and many of their greatest warriors care nothing for honor in battle -- only victory. If you make yourself a prize, you will face ambushes and challenges from one end of Valenar to the other, and each victory will simply draw the attention of more talented elves and teach them your strengths and weaknesses. Show humility, pose no threat, and the Valaes Tairn will pass you by.
Where the restless elves hate to stand still, most of the other people of Valenar might as well be rooted to the earth. The humans of this land live in villages, hamlets, and thorps, and few of these people have ever traveled farther than ten leagues from the ground on which they were born. By and large, the only traditions the people of Shivairn have in common with the folk of Norinath are those forced upon them by the lords of Galifar –- including distrust and sometimes open hostility towards westerners. Those who venture off the Old Road will find a cold welcome in Valenar villages, along with few services for travelers; the humans of Valenar keep to themselves and expect the same of their neighbors.
Most of these anchored people of Valenar are humans and half-elves. Most humans can trace their roots back to the fallen nation of Khunan in Sarlona, and they are proud of their ties to the soil of the east; along the old road, Shivairn, Keth, and Norinath are largely human communities. The Khoravar are more recent arrivals, who have traveled east over the course of the last four decades. Some have founded new communities, such as Moonshadow. Others have settled in Jal Paeridor, Taer Valaestas, and Pylas Maradal, and it is these newcomers who maintain these cities. With that said, there are a few elves among the anchored population. The stories that reach the west paint the Tairnadal as warriors hungry for battle, and for the most part these tales are true. But where do the Valenar get their fine weapons and armor? Who raises their legendary horses?
On Aerenal, much of the mundane work is done by elves who have yet to earn blade or steed. But there are master craftsmen among the elves of Valenar, those who dedicate their lives to the work of supporting the soldiers. This is not a choice; it is religious duty. When a child comes of age among the Tairnadal, the Keepers of the Past perform divinations to see which of the ancient heroes has chosen the initiate. Honorable warrior, stormcalling druid, merciless hunter, master smith –- these are just a few of the archetypes found among the ancient Tairnadal, and it is up to the young elf to follow whatever path is laid before him. Most of the Valaes Tairn are deadly warriors, but some are destined to support their kindred as smiths, engineers, or other vital tasks. These elves are known as the zaelantar, "peaceful spirits." They are viewed with a mixture of respect and pity by their warlike brethren; the work they do is vital, and yet they are denied the chance to ride into battle or stalk prey.
Some young elves seek to escape this fate, but there is no denying the spirits in Tairnadal society; as a result, those encountered in Valenar are usually serene about their roles, striving to match the skills of their legendary predecessors. For the zaelantar smith, the forge is a battlefield and each blade a struggle; he too seeks to match the legendary deeds of his ancestors. Only a few of the zaelantar have come to Valenar, and they are largely found in Taer Valaestas and the fortresses.
Now you know something of the people of the land, let us consider the road to Taer Valaestas.
New Item: Cualra Flask
The Tairnadal nomads are experts at living off of the land. Even in Valenar, most elves prefer to rely on their Survival skills than to dine in inns. A common myth holds that the Valenar elves are capable of eating dirt and sand, and the cualra flask holds the truth behind this legend. Aerenal is known for its powerful Irian manifest zones and its strange lumber. The cualra flask is carved from wood treated to harness the latent energies of Irian; this power charges the substances within the flask with positive energy, transforming a little water and a few roots into a life-sustaining meal.
To use a cualra flask, a character must know what substances react with it and where these can be found. This requires a minimum of 4 ranks of Survival and training from someone familiar with cualra. Once these conditions are met, the flask grants its bearer a +3 circumstance bonus on Survival checks made to find food and water. Cualra can even be used to sustain a horse in regions where there is no grazing; this uses as much food as it would take to sustain three humans.
A cualra flask weighs one pound and costs 60 gp.
The Border Keeps and the Blade Desert
House Lyrandar has a strong alliance with the Darkwood Crown, and if Taer Valaestas is your destination you should consider traveling by airship or elemental galleon. If this is not an option –- if you must travel south from the Talenta Planes –- you will find it a hard road.
The first you will see of Valenar is a pillar of stone rising up from the barren flatlands, a spire that seems unnatural in its height and perfection. It should seem unnatural; it is a taer, one of the fortresses of the Valenar. Stories say that these monoliths were raised from the earth during the Age of Monsters, shaped by the hands of the legendary druid Maezan Shal, also known as the Thunderhand. Six of these stone keeps ring the Blade Desert -- Stonefeather Spire, Taer Valior, Griffonclaw, Zephyr Keep, Taer Shantara, and the Aerie -– along with the broken spires of Taer Zanathar and Taer Elladorn.
Depending on the day that you arrive, you may find a Lyrandar airship docked at the fortress, or you may see a patrol of the Kel Gryfaen, the griffon riders of Valenar. The Valenar are best known for their wondrous horses, but they are warriors through and through, and they know the value of commanding the air. The Kel Gryfaen were born in the struggle between the Valaes Tairn and the hobgoblins of the Dhakaani empire; today a single warclan has reclaimed that heritage, bonding with the wild griffons to claim the air over the desert. Each taer is also the home base of a full warclan of ground troops. Only a small complement of soldiers walk the walls of the keep; the elves prefer to remain in motion, and most of the warbands are in the field, patrolling the lands around their fortress. However, animal messengers and other tools are used to signal the soldiers in the field, and the danger posed by the elves is always greater than it appears.
The only people who can find shelter at a Valenar fortress are the Tairnadal themselves and their Lyrandar allies. If you travel with a Lyrandar heir or a Valenar warrior, you might be allowed to rest and refresh yourself, but don't plan on staying long.
Beyond the line of taers lies the Blade Desert, sharp and deadly as its namesake. In addition to the natural dangers of any desert, strips of the Blade Desert are touched by the planes. Manifest zones bound to Fernia are filled with unearthly heat and furnace winds. Fearsome flaywinds tear across areas bound to Shavarath, and it's said that the ghosts of fallen warriors -- Dhaakani hobgoblins and other soldiers who have died in the desert -- haunt these regions. A good guide can avoid these treacherous areas, and possibly even find a Lamannian oasis within the burning sands. But traveling blind is a deadly business; a few tales even speak of unlucky wanderers who entered the desert only to end up on Shavarath itself.
Keth and the Old Road
While there are Khunan villages and hamlets scattered across Valenar, there is only one major highway in the territory. This is the Old Road, which runs from Pylas Maradal on the southern coast to Norinath in the northeast. Tairnadal warbands patrol the Old Road, ensuring that it is safe for their Lyrandar allies and those khunans who wish to travel. However, while you may not have to worry about bandits or other predators, you will find no inns or other amenities along the Old Road. If you seek supplies or comfort after crossing the desert, you will want to stop in the town of Keth, the third largest community in Valenar. While the khunan inhabitants might shun your company, under the guidance of House Lyrandar, Keth has brought in representatives from many of the dragonmarked houses. In addition to the Gold Dragon Inn of House Ghallanda, you will find Malar d'Jorasco's house of healing, the Cannith-licensed Sand & Steel smithy, and an outpost of House Lyrandar. Barges run south along the river every day, while airships pass through Keth twice weekly; if your trek through the desert was harder than you anticipated, you can certainly ride the rest of the way to Taer Valaestas.
As long as you avoid provoking the Valaes Tairn themselves you will find few risks on the Old Road. Whether you travel by land, sea, or air, you will soon come to Taer Valaestas, the heart of Valenar and the seat of the Darkwood Crown. And it is there that your adventure truly begins.
- House Vadalis believes that the Kel Gryfaen are using druidic magic to breed a superior form of griffon, and they hope that this secret will be easier to crack than the mystery of the Valenar horses. Can you penetrate Griffonclaw fortress, charm a group of griffons, and reach safe haven before the riders find you? Are the griffons of the Valenar mundane creatures, or do they have some magic uncommon among their kind?
- One night, when the party is camped alongside the Old Road, the sentry spots stealthy figures at the edge of sight. Most likely, these are Valenar hunters testing the PCs to see if they pose a worthy challenge. Of course, it's possible that they are bandits … or something worse.
- While crossing the Blade Desert, the adventurers find the corpse of a hobgoblin warrior, including a beautiful greatsword, with enough magical power to appeal to the party. This might be just as it seems -- a fortunate find. Or it could be a weapon of legacy with a fearsome history and a grim destiny. Forged to battle the Valaes Tairn by the ancient swordsmiths of Dhakaan, it will drive its user to battle the Valenar. It will also bring trouble from Darguun, as hobgoblin and bugbear heroes seek to reclaim the blade of their ancestors. While it holds great power, is it worth the danger?
- In 994 YK, thousands of Cyrans were killed as they sought to flee the mists of the Mourning. Some were killed by the Valenar guardians of Griffonclaw and the western fortresses. Others were slain by humans –- the khunan people who live in hamlets close to the taers, who sought pointless vengeance for the indignities suffered by their ancestors. It was a time of panic and madness, and an incident that left deep scars on those Cyrans who survived it. Now an elite unit of Cyran avengers (Five Nations page 86) is preparing to take revenge, slaughtering as many khunans as they can before they are forced into conflict with the Valenar. None of them expects to survive this campaign -– but they hope to massacre multiple hamlets before they are brought down. What do the PCs do when they encounter these psychotic soldiers? If any of the PCs fought for Cyre, they might have served alongside one of the avengers during the war; the PC might have lost loved ones of his own at khunan hands. Will the PCs help the avengers carry out their vendetta? Will they work with the Valenar to defend the villagers? Or will they try to turn the Cyrans away from this suicidal quest?