The party awakes to find themselves sitting at an extravagant banquet table. Among them are two new people that the rest do not recognize, and Elven Druid, Eleasar, and a Human Ranger, George. The table is laid with everyone’s favorite foods. The room is then filled with exclamations along the lines of “Who the hell are you?” between the original party and the newcomers and further questions of “Where the hell are we?” and similar.
After only a moment or two, a soft cough and a quiet, “Excuse me,” gets the attention of the group, who realizes that they are not along any longer. Three softly glowing figures are seated at the head of the table: a handsome dwarven woman in golden armor is seated on the party’s left, a beautiful elven woman in white and green robes is seated on the party’s right, and a kindly-looking old gnomish man in a silvery tunic is seated between the two. They are recognized by everyone as Koloka, goddess of protection, Alinys, goddess of luck, and Tachir, god of life, respectively.
“Greetings, my friends,” Tachir says as he stands up in his chair, “welcome and well met. We have something that we wish to discuss with you all, but first, please eat and drink your fill, and then afterwards we will discuss business.”
Most of the party immediately begins eating, but Ishmael and Eleasar refuse to eat or drink anything. Noticing this, Tachir smiles at them and says, “I assure you, nothing here is poisoned or will harm you in any way.” This has no effect, however, and both continue to sit there stoney-faced. Tachir finally shrugs, “As you wish.”
As the meal continues, so does the buzz of conversation. There is also a fair amount of bickering, which has rapidly become a regular occurrence during the time that the party has been together. At one point, Tobe flies over toward Ishmael with the intent of spraying pixie dust in his face after the latter says something insulting about Tobe’s family. Ishmael’s knife is instantly ready, but Tachir puts up a hand, and the pixie stops before making it more than a few feet. “Now, now, none of that please, at least not during our meeting. We would prefer that everyone stays in one piece.”
Once everyone has eaten their fill, except of course for Ishmael and Eleasar, who never ate a bite, Tachir stands up once again, “Ah, now that we are well fed… well, most of us, anyway,” he shoots a slightly annoyed glance at the two abstainers, “it is time to move on to business.”
“As you may be aware, my twin and her children are currently dominating our world, causing plagues, famine, and monstrous creatures to roam freely across the land. We, of course, would prefer that this were not the case. However, an outright battle between us would destroy the very thing that they seek to rule, and we seek to protect. So grandmother Caithyra has decided that it is time for a contest to be held between the champions of the forces of good, that’s us, of course, and the forces of evil. There have been many such contests in the past. Sometimes we win, sometimes they win. During the last contest, I’m afraid we made poor choices in champions…", Tobe makes and offended exclamation at this, “and they won. They won the right to dominate for a millennium before we, the deities of good, would have another chance to restore the balance. It is now time for us to have that chance. If good prevails, the land will be healed, the monsters will go back into their dark places, and civilization will once again have a chance to blossom and thrive. If evil prevails, the World will fall further into decay and despair. All nations will fall, and the races will be reduced to barbarism as they fight to survive in a world turned against them. It will remain that way until we, the deities of good, once again win one of these contests.”
“My daughters and I have called you here to prevent this from happening. We must once again push back my sister and her children, or the World will surely be doomed. Here is how this millennium’s contest will work. Each side will choose champions, who will receive a certain amount of power from the deities who chose them. The two sets of champions will then compete to gather four ancient artifacts together, and then bring them to the appointed place before the other side does so, and once there perform some final task, to be chosen by our All-Mother, who remains neutral in this as in all things. Mother Lalphaw is also staying out of it, as she has no interest, and Father Smonn will act as mediator, and will aid each side equally as necessary. The exact nature of the final task will not be known until after the artifacts have been brought to the appointed place, which will be inside the very temple which you just left. Myself, Daughter Koloka, and Daughter Alinys have chosen you as our champions. Sister Halit, Nephew Torowe, and Nephew Vicdak will choose their own champion or champions. If any champions fall, give up or are deemed unworthy before the contest is ended, new champions will be chosen. You will note that we have chosen to select multiple champions. This means that we must divide our granted power among you, but we believe that the dilution of our power will more than be made up for by your ability to work together as a unit, and thus increasing your combined power immeasurably. If I know my sister, though, the other side will likely choose to grant all of their power into one champion, as it is not in the nature of evil to cooperate for very long without turning on itself, though this one champion will undoubtedly have many minions and lieutenants. You will thus be facing an enemy or enemies far more powerful than you are individually. But if you work together, we believe that you will prove more powerful. You must be wary, but you must also have faith that you can prevail. If you do prevail, you will each be granted whatever reward you wish, short of godhood."
“And now, I will ask each of you: ‘Will you become our champion?’ Those that agree will be granted a blessing and sent back into The World to begin your task. Those who do not will be allowed to go in peace, and another will be chosen in your place.”
He does so, one at a time, and each person at the table agrees to become a champion.
“And now, daughter Alinys will grant each of you your portion of power to aid you in your task.”
Tachir sits down and the elven woman, Alinys stands, bowing slightly toward her father in acknowledgement. “Thank you,” says quietly to Tachir before addressing the rest of the group. She holds a deck of cards in her hands, and, smiling, she begins to shuffle them. “As father Tachir has said, I will now grant each of you a power which will aid you and will be yours from now on.”
She stops shuffling and turns toward Noah, drawing a card and holding it up for all to see, “First, Noah, who goes through the World depending on fortune’s favor, shall be given the power of The Fool.” The card floats out of her hand and fades into Noah’s forehead.
She draws another card and turns toward Valistar, “Next, Valistar, who seeks to right what is wrong in the World, shall be given the power of Justice.” The card floats out of her hand and fades into Valistar’s forehead.
She draws another card and turns toward Kronk, “Next, Kronk, who use your mighty body to do good, shall be given the power of Strength.” The card floats out of her hand and fades into Kronk’s forehead.
She draws another card and turns toward George, “Next, George, who turn your inner pain into outward strength, shall be given the power of the Hermit.” The card floats out of her hand and fades into George’s forehead.
She draws another card and turns toward Eleasar, “Next, Eleasar, who sees the World from a different perspective from most of the World, shall be given the power of the Hanging Man.” The card floats out of her hand and fades into Eleasar’s forehead.
She draws another card and turns toward Ingnacia, “Next, Ingnacia, who are fascinated with destructive powers, shall be given the power of The Tower.” The card floats out of her hand and fades into Ingnacia’s forehead.
She draws another card and turns toward Ishmael, “Next, Ishmael, who lives in secret and shadows, shall be given the power of the Moon.” The card floats out of her hand and fades into Ishmael’s forehead.
She draws one final card and turns toward Tobe, “Last, but by no means least, Tobe, who see the World as your playground, shall be given the power of The World.” The card floats out of her hand and fades into Tobe’s forehead.
She then addresses the group once more, “You will also now find yourselves growing in power rapidly, and perhaps in ways that most mortals would not be able to achieve,” and she makes a gesture to her sister and is once again seated.
Koloka, acknowledging Alinys solemnly, stands to address the group herself, “This is the nature of the four artifacts which you must collect. Each has great power on its own, in addition to being a part of this contest. Once the contest is over, however, they will scatter themselves throughout the world and will hide their true power until such time as they are needed again.”
As she speaks, images appear above the table, showing each artifact in turn.
“This is the Pentacle, which holds the power of Earth. The holder will be granted great fortune, and may call upon the power of Earth to protect them from not only physical damage, but also more esoteric damage. It will also grant the power of free movement over the earth, making it nearly impossible for the bearer’s body to be restrained.”
“This is the Cup, which holds the power of Water. This has a simple, yet deceptively powerful ability. It may call forth into itself any liquid the holder desires. Any liquid at all.”
“This is the Wand, which holds the power of Fire. The holder of this wand may call forth a variety of powerful fiery attacks to devastate the holder’s enemies.”
“This is the Sword, which holds the power to Air. In addition to being an excellent sword in and of itself, which delivers a powerful shock to those it strikes, the holder of this artifact may call upon the power of air to propel themselves, and a number of others, through the air. The bearer may also call upon the power of air summon a funnel of air which will not only protect, but do harm to those who may attempt to make their way through it.”
She nods curtly to Tachir and is seated. Tachir stands once more, “Those are the four artifacts of Balatro which I now charge you to find and bring together. May fortune follow you where ever you may go. The World is counting on it.”
The three deities bow to the group as the they and the room fades away. Everyone then find themselves waking up back in the real world. Eleasar and George are back in the forest where they had fallen asleep. The rest are back outside of the Temple there were just in, though the temple itself has changed. It is once again intact and looks brand new. The now formidable-looking and solidly closed doors have four indentations, each one in the shape of one of the artifacts.
Tachir’s voice sounds once more out of the air, “Oh, and I nearly forgot, Elrohir promised you each payment for escorting him here. Let’s see… it took 12 days to get here, so that’s 120 silver each, though you did do some fighting on two of the days, including today, so I believe 140 silver each is what was agreed…” 14 gold coins appear at each of the party members’ feet. “…and if you should seek out Elrohir again, be aware that he will not remember you or any of what has happened in the past few weeks. As far as he, or anyone else, is concerned, he has been in Asgoth going about his normal business.”
“Oh, and one more thing, this quest will be extremely perilous, so we could not in good conscience allow four children to accompany you into such extreme danger. They have been sent home safely, with the memory only of an excellent adventure to the ruins, and then a safe trip home again.”
As the group gathers up the gold coins and generally reorientates themselves, Ingnacia seems to suddenly realize that she has a new power and decides to try it out. A brief earthquake rocks the surrounding area. Nearly everyone just shrugs off the effect as little more than an annoyance. Ishmael, however, is tossed to the ground and is hurt rather severely. He gets back up, and limps over to the offending pixie, who he then proceeds to smack to the ground roughly in retaliation.
The noise of the earthquake attracts the attention of Eleasar and George, who turn out to be not very far away. They seem to know exactly who made the noise and walk over to join the group. Upon seeing Ishmael’s wounds, Eleasar casts a spell which heals some of them. Noah seems not to notice Ishmael’s wounds even then.
The group then begins discussing where they should begin their search for the artifacts. Tobe immediately pipes up, “I know where one is! Great Grandma Rittophoran has one in her garden! It’s in Iphily!” He then start expounding disjointedly about his great grandmother’s “Great Garden” and how she had long ago found and hidden something important inside of the Garden, and how it was probably one of the artifacts, since she was one of the party of adventures who sought them a thousand years ago. Some of the group seems to think that this is as good a place to start as any, but some others, Ishmael and George chief among them, seem to think that following a tip from a pixie is just asking for trouble, and going into the place with the highest concentration of pixies in The World is an even worse idea. For the moment, though, they decide to head back to Asgoth City for now, as that would be their first stop wherever they were going, and it was also the closest place where they could find someone who may know something about the rest of the artifacts.
The journey back is not completely uneventful, what with monsters infesting the countryside, but nothing that the party encountered is nearly powerful enough to cause them to do much more than pause for a moment to take care of them.
Once back in town, the party splits up. Tobe wanders off and is not seen again for the rest of the day. Valistar goes off in another direction, but finds nothing useful. Ishmael and Eleasar go to the nearest temple of Smonn, which also doubles as the local library. Noah and George start to wander the streets when Noah has this sudden urge to go into a tavern for a drink. Kronk and Ingnacia go in another direction, wandering the streets.
In the temple, Ishmael and Eleasar speak with one of the priests about where they might find information on the artifacts of Balatro, and also any information on the Great Garden in Iphily. The priest never heard of any artifacts of Balatro, and a few hours of research turn up nothing. The priest is able to give them a little information on the Garden. He tells them about how it is a powerfully magical place that has been there for several centuries, and how it is a very treacherous place to enter, especially uninvited. It is filled with powerful illusions which can confuse, with enough real threats to make the illusions especially dangerous. At their request, the priest shows them the Garden’s approximate location on a map of Iphily. They ask for a copy of the map, but the priest says that he does not have any to spare, but he directs the pair to the nearest cartographer, where they can obtain any maps they may desire. Once they have their map, they set off to find the others.
Meanwhile, in the tavern, Noah and George have a drink while they discuss their next move. While they sit at the bar, Noah becomes aware of the song that the tavern’s minstrel is playing. In particular he notices the word ‘Balatro’ in the song. This, of course, gets their attention, and they begin to pay closer attention to the song. It seems to be a somewhat disjointed song about a hero, who travels the land righting wrongs and fighting evil, accompanied in turn by a pixie, a swift magical horse, a beautiful warrior maiden, a cat and a monster. None of the characters are ever named, and the song never says anything about how the various companions arrive or leave. In fact, the song doesn’t even mention the word ‘Balatro’ again after Noah and George first hear it. The song ends with the death of the hero, and the lament of the pixie, who creates a garden with her magic and lays his body to rest in its center. Noah questions the minstrel about the song and has him play it again. The beginning of the song is much like the rest of the song. The part that had caught Noah’s attention is also the only mention of the word Balatro in the entire song, wherein the hero had sought “Balatro’s Charm”. The minstrel tells Noah that she does not know what Balatro’s Charm is supposed to be, she also doesn’t know for sure who had written it, for the song is many centuries old, and the author’s name has been lost. She suspects, however, that the garden mentioned at the end is likely the Great Garden in Iphily, near the big pixie village. She says she’s never been there herself, but she does know another song about the Great Garden. Noah has her play it, and it is a song about the dangers of anyone entering the Great Garden with the intent of stealing the treasure hidden there. It is much the same information as Ishmael and Eleasar found out from the priest, though it goes into some gruesome detail about the fates of the treasure hunters who went in, and also mentions an ancient and powerful pixie who lives in the Garden.
Noah is still not sure that this is really the place where one of the artifacts are hidden, so he decides to put his new ‘Fool’ power, which grants him extraordinary luck, to the test and, taking a dart from the tavern’s dartboard, and puts his back to a map of the world hanging on the wall. He tosses the dart over his shoulder and turns to see where it landed. The dart quivers in the wall where it sticks, pointing directly at a spot not far from a volcano in the foothills of the great mountain range that stretches along the east coast of Iphily, near a mark where someone has scribbled “Here there be Pixies”. He shrugs, and the pair leave the tavern to find the others.
Meanwhile, in the streets, Kronk flags down every pixie he sees and asks them if they know Tobe Det Ermined. Any who say yes get put into a basket gently where there are a few pixie-sized goodies. After Kronk thinks he has enough pixies, he sets off to find the others. Ingnacia then flits down to perch on the side of the basket and asks the other pixies excitedly, “Hey, anyone want to fertilize my eggs?” After glancing at the others briefly, one grins answers, “Sure!”
The lid to the basket is closed tight behind Ingnacia and… interesting… sounds begin to emanate from the basket, which Kronk ignores as he arrives back at the meeting place to find everyone else arriving as well, except Tobe who still has not been seen. Someone asks Kronk what’s in the basket making those sounds, and Kronk says, “Pixies! They can help us find the Garden!”
Ishmael opens the lid to take a peek inside and one of the pixies looks up angrily, wipes something from its mouth hurriedly, and says, “Hey! A little privacy, please!” and slams the lid shut again. Ishmael asks Kronk to hand him the basket, but Kronk refuses, and Noah says, “No, you’re not going to swing around the basket.”
A moment later, the lid swings open again, and several very satisfied looking pixies start to leave. Only Ingnacia remains behind, resting in the bottom of the basket. Kronk says, “Hey, you were going to help us find the Great Garden!” One of the pixies stops and looks back, confused, “No, you just asked if we know Tobe. If you want the Great Garden, you’ll need to go to Iphily.” This last pixie leaves without a backward glance.
While the others share what they’ve learned between each other, Kronk glances down at his basket, his eye drawn by the motion of Ingnacia leaving the basket to join the conversation, and notices that the bottom is now covered with some glittery powder, pixie dust. He grins stupidly and says, “Hey, look everybody! GLITTER!!” He then proceeds to scatter the contents of the basket over the others. Everyone immediately tries, without success, to get out of the way, looking disgusted, since they’d all figured out what had been going on in the basket. This effectively ends the discussions for the time being, as everyone decides that now would be an excellent time to find somewhere to clean up. George, in fact, decides that it’s time to leave the city completely and goes to find a camping spot with some fresh water nearby. Eleasar goes with him.
When everyone gathers back together, it is decided that they will get a ship to take them to Iphily, as everything they’ve found so far points to the Great Garden there. They set out the next day on the month-long journey to Iphily, traveling up the Long Bay into the Sea of Rotan. They then sail west into the Sea of Ilddald, giving a wide berth to Alaron, and its magical wall. As they travel south into the main part of the Western Ocean, Eleasar is gazing out over the ocean when he detects something with his ‘Hanged Man’ power, which lets him detect and analyze all types of Magic. Invisible to the naked eye, a large water elemental approaches the ship. He cries out a warning to the others so that they are prepared when it attacks. It attacks from many meters away, using blobs of sticky fluid and long tentacles of water to attack those on the ship. One of the blobs hit Kronk, but he shrugs it off with barely an effort. The rest of the attacks have little effect, though the party’s return attacks have similarly low effect, the elemental having a high resistance to physical attacks as well as fire, which is all that manages to connect. Eleasar does try repeatedly to call down lightning to strike the elemental, but seems to have a lot of trouble with his aim. The party does finally manage to knock the elemental unconscious with their blows, and though they don’t realize at first what has happened, since it is largely invisible to them, and they continue to pummel the creature until Eleasar tells them that he no longer detects any magic coming from where the elemental was.
The rest of the trip passes with no more incidents. They continue south and west, eventually following the coast of Iphily around to the great port city of Kierst, where they disembark.
After only a brief stop to resupply and rest overnight, the party sets off into the huge forest that forms the interior of the continent and nation of Iphily.