Dark Dangers Threaten Evendarr's Borders
By Holly Castleton, Editor-in-Chief, Raven's Herald
August 15, 603 ER

Each year, when the season in Ravenholt is too hot for gathers and newsworthy events seem to lessen, I take my annual vacation to far-off lands. This year, I'd heard King Mykel himself was touring the lower reaches of Evendarr, and there were rumors of a King's Tourney. I figured it was time to head south to see the sights, foolishly thinking I'd actually get away and relax. I was soon to discover that great change was afoot in the kingdom.

When I set out towards Evendarr City, I could not have known where the winds would take me. As I soon discovered, the King's Tournament, the first in many years, which was dubbed the "First Avalonian Tourney," was to be held in a newly built keep on the southwestern border of the Kingdom. After getting careful directions and numerous warnings about the dangers of travel should we stray from our path, I cautiously set off. Had anyone warned me that the lands just miles beyond those I was to travel were commonly known as "The Dreadlands" for their rough and ravaged reaches, I might have opted for sunny Niman as a choice vacation spot, instead.

The trip began fairly tamely as I, and the caravan of Evendarrians with whom I joined up, moved southward. We all enjoyed the gradual changes to the landscape. We passed from the rich but coifed landscape of Evendarr City, down into lovely Kitheria, then skirted through the wilds of Tyrangel - the current kingdom politics of which are a story unto themselves - and finally crossed into the Sutherlands, where we were hospitably treated by all we encountered (many of whom were also traveling to the King's gather). The string of wagons headed to the Tourney grew longer with each passing day. As we reached the southwestern most reaches of the Sutherlands, however, the terrain grew progressively more rocky and wild, and we began to leave some of the lush greenery of Sutherlands' summer behind - these lands were the most untamed in Evendarr - yet still beautiful in their own, harsh way.

We soon discovered through chatter and gossip with fellow travelers that the new keep was one of necessity and protection for the kingdom, protecting our borders from those of the Dreadlands. Those who had traveled through them already described rocky outcroppings reaching upward amidst rough, gritty patches of harshly barren earth. Few trees there grew straight and strong - no sign of healthy pine or oak - naught but brier and thorns among the scree. Some questioned, could His Majesty truly desire these lands for his own?

Why not leave them be? For the Dreadlands, as it happens, are not without their own native peoples, and they are not entirely friendly to the races of man as we know them. In the center of these deadened, near-lifeless lands is a city, if one can call it that, of a reptilian race who call themselves the "Ka'hiss." The name, when spoken as they do, slithers off the tongue - the forked, serpentine tongue. They are of a military force that, by all reports, makes the Sessai seem tame and harmless as a hobling child.

Hearing fragments of these horrors as we traveled made many of us nervous - several wagonloads even chose to turn back. But I, my plagued reporter's sense heightened, foolishly moved onward.

We arrived at the Keep as sun set on Thursday eve, just prior to the gather. All appeared calm and organized, though there was the usual air of controlled chaotic mayhem that precedes any tournament. Through the night, many other caravans came in from all directions, though few came directly or even indirectly through the Dreadlands if they could help it.

When all were finally gathered before His Majesty for the official commencement of the gather, the mood was upbeat and cheerful. Camaraderie was already forming between soon-to-be-combatants, as each tried to weigh their competitors prior to the events. As the ceremonies began, our great and noble King, Mykel Endarr II, himself, was struck with what appeared to all in attendance to be an agonizing pain, and many of his nearest men-at-arms and vassals appeared inflicted with similar agony. After some confusion, a muddled sort of explanation began to circulate among us: His Majesty and several others had felt a great tremor in the lands themselves - they knew it to be some vile evil affecting Tyrra. The moments of pain seemed to briefly ease, until King Mykel complained that a ring he wore, which he had had for many years, was growing hot upon his hand. No sooner had he realized this than we all saw a vast something, something we could none of us identify, seem to materialize - some say from the Ring, others from King Mykel himself. To me, it appeared as if he raised his hand to reach out, and in doing so, summoned it forth! But that was my vision upon reflection - in the meantime, this strange creature was attacking all it could reach, until it was battled down by the many brave wizards and warriors in attendance.

Once order was restored and the injured healed, and it was determined that King Mykel and his Princes were as well as could be expected, we were left to our own devices for the night - none could sleep, for the excitement had awakened us all quite thoroughly - and it was then that the story of the twelve Rings of Evendarr began to be bandied about. It seems that these twelve rings had at one time, been held by twelve Protectors of Evendarr, and that some believe even now that the spirits of those twelve are encapsulated within the rings to watch over Evendarr in times of need. With further research, I was able to determine that the original twelve included many famous names among the Founding Five Families, including Ambrose Huntington, Lady V'Ktara Solonari, whose ring represents Justice, Brother Laramis Hartwell, whose ring represents Compassion, Guildmaster Jarridar Coriolis (Truth), Gurndra Hammerstane (Strength), Shandra MacGregor (Honesty), Lord Arigi Nandemyr (Diplomacy), Magda Ivanova Ajonisa (Wisdom), Dame Commander Allandra Vandoros (also, possibly, Justice), Lord Powell Huntington (Sacrifice), and Earl Haarlan Thurderblade, representing Valor. As I have as yet been unable to determine the story behind the last appearance of these great noble spirits, the Herald will pay well for any who can provide further insights into the rings.

What is clear is that later in the gather, many brave adventurers were able to recover several, if not all, of these rings, which had apparently been lost through the ages. The adventurers presented them to the Nobles of Evendarr who were in attendance, and were thanked and honored for their dedication to the Crown. While I was unable to obtain the names of all the heroic men and women who fought so valiantly for these invaluable artifacts (so much else was going on that I could not be all places at once - should we discover the names of them, we shall publish them in future Raven's Herald issues), I did hear of one particularly valorous woman, one Nikita Darkstrider, who gave of her own spirit to be placed in a ring which had lost its own. In order to do this, she had to pass into Death's domain, and travel into the Heroes' Graveyard. We would be honored to publish her obituary, should one be made available to us. She was able to get word back out to the gentry of impending dangers of which she was made aware within the graveyard. She spoke of an evil being known only as Emeraldyne, whom some swear is and Emerald Dragon incarnate, who sits amidst the ruins of the Dreadlands and plans his next conquest. Goodwoman Darkstrider determined that Emeraldyne, enraged at the thought of a concordance among the kingdoms, had already begun moving troops in the form of the Ka'hiss and other vile creatures, towards the Keep and beyond. In addition to these mighty serpentine foes, whom none in my party had (thankfully) yet seen, there were reported to be numerous underlings with a modicum of power each, as granted them by this Emeraldyne, who in turn control smaller troops on his behalf.

We soon found out that Nikita's hard-won information was correct, as a disturbing assortment of Tyrra's most repugnant creatures began concerted attacks upon us. We found ourselves up against corrupted (even for them) Sessuar, an undead horde led by a monstrosity I cannot begin to describe, and even twisted, warped Fae creatures, all of whom seemed somehow under the ultimate control of Emeraldyne. While they all attacked from different directions, their intent was clear - our absolute and utter annihilation. Our brave band of nobles and adventurers fought long and hard against more than 400 soldiers who slithered, rifted, rose from the earth, and otherwise found their way towards us. In the end, the Armies of the Mark and our brave adventurers were able to cause the enemy to retreat, but for how long is unclear.

In speaking with some of the more militarily minded men and women of the field after the battle was done, I got the impression that they believed these attacks were the concerted efforts of only a few, possibly as few as three, of Emeraldyne's lieutenants. Some wondered aloud as to whether the Keep could hold against a more concerted attack. I, myself, have lived through Greystone's Sessuar War and have lived to breathe another day in vicious Brood attacks, but those were long, drawn out devastation - this was a ferocious flurry of devastation, and I find myself near paralyzed with fear just thinking of it again.

It is my understanding that King Mykel has sent some of his most lithe and secretive scouts southward in an attempt to move beyond the Dreadlands - there were once lands to the south known as Marshaven, which began as an outpost of His Majesty's troops who were scouting for lands for eventual settlement. It is unclear what has happened to those troops, and there are whispers that Emeraldyne's warriors may have done them in. A more recent expedition of His Majesty's men set out early this year with several nobles of the realm, to try a more diplomatic mission. They were expected to return for the gather, but had not appeared by the end of the tournament, to the concern of all.

Amidst all this chaos and destruction, His Majesty, of course, insisted that the Tournament continue, for he refused to allow his (now sworn) enemies to destroy the honor and integrity of the day. Several of Ravenholt's finest citizens won a hard fought victory against numerous teams of contestants from other duchies, and have been duly given titles as Honorary King's Knights. (See related article, this issue).

The Accords of Avalon were also brought forth and discussed at this, the first of several planned meetings on the topic. I was unable to sit in on the meetings as I was busy covering both the attacks and the tournaments - had I known it would be more than a simple King's Tourney, I'd have brought more Herald staff to help out! We will, of course, pay handsomely for any details concerning the ongoing development of the Accords, as they will affect our lands and our people, as well as our relations with our neighbors on all sides. Never let it be said that our Kingdom is a dull one - I, for one, have returned from my ersatz vacation weary and war-torn, and very much in need…of a vacation.