Our adventure begins at the Crossroads of The Cauldron, on the first day of spring, as merchants from far-flung locations in The Cauldron make their way to the largest neutral trading post in the Shard. These traders braved the last Skitterswarms of the season for first pick of the available stalls, as competition is stiff at the Crossroads Bazaar.
A handful of eager Orc farmers, and a solitary Lobex blacksmith arrived first, and had only begun to assemble their stalls when they were interrupted by a deafening crash from the North, as the ancient bridge to the northern road collapsed beneath the weight of an Aati caravan.
This caravan belongs to Tuli a proud member of the Aati Trade Guild, and driven by Hod, a dog-faced veteran of the The War of The Clans. Tuli and Hod experienced a harrowing journey south, as the Northern Orcish Clans had began quietly infiltrating the Ironwood Forest, while launching clandestine raids on unexpecting trade caravans. The Aati Trade Guild lost two such caravans this winter, and sent a retinue of veteran guards to protect the lone wagon on it’s prolonged journey south, lead by the master marksman PHIL. The caravan was joined by the wandering Lobex Barbarian, Ryn, who agreed to help defend the beleaguered caravan for a modest fee.
Hod had been on edge for most of the journey, having survived numerous small skirmishes with Northern Orcs, and was convinced that he would not survive the journey to the Crossroads. Hod felt the bridge giving way, and attempted to push his Thunderers across the crumbling bridge, only to be caught halfway, teetering ponderously over the brink of the dry river they had been crossing. Phil threw himself free from the sliding cart, tumbling to the ground with surprising grace, and notched an arrow, surveying his rocky surroundings for signs of a foe. His keen eyes made out two diminutive figures crouched beneath the canyon cliff, seemingly huddled in fright. Ryn threw himself behind the sliding cart, calling upon the strength of his draconic ancestors, and heaved the tipsy cart over the edge of the crumbling bridge, to safety.
As the startled caravan guards took stock of their situation, an ethereal figure appeared from the South, seemingly floating on the wind itself. The creature was shaped from mist itself, man sized, with evershifting features and a breastplate crafted from scintillating crystals, designed in beautiful geometric patterns. Where the creature pointed, the mist followed, forming into shadowy, vaporous creatures, who moved to surround the shadowy figures hiding beneath the canyon cliff. These mist-forms coalesced into hulking feline beasts, similar to the Canyon Stalkers Kathrams, who approached the shadowy cleft with all the savage grace of their living counterparts.
From the shadows burst two young Orcs, who scrambled up the sheer cliff wall in seeming terror. The Mist-creature followed, with the Aati archer and Lobex barbarian close at his heels, but the children stopped fast, frozen in horror, eyes locked on the distant black swarm pouring from a cave to the North. The Mist-creature followed it’s gaze, noticed the vast Skitterswarm, and raised the alarm, contacting both the caravan and the Crossroads simultaneously.
The Caravan was soon joined by the few early traders who had preceded them to the Crossroads, a huge Orc name Nurl, his son Wog, and a host of Nurls children. The only other attendee thus far was an elderly Lobex blacksmith named Aslak. Introductions were exchanged, the mysterious mist-creature introduced himself as Cylan, and insured the frightened folk that he was indeed here to help. Nurl was quick to point out the peculiarity of a daytime swarm attack, and mentioned fear that the traditional methods might not suffice. Fearing just such an event, the worried travellers decided to flee for the Bone Maze, preferring to face it’s unknown dangers to consumption by the ravenous swarm. Nurl gathered all the collected Thunderers, along with Tusk a mysterious Orcish traveller who had arrived with Cylis. The two experienced riders corralled the mighty beasts, children in tow, stampeding their way towards the distant entrance of the Bone Maze, as the dark cloud of Skitterlings descended inexorably towards them.
The Aati archer and Cylis soon realized that they would not outrun the swarm, and held their ground, hoping to buy the fleeing children enough time to make the Maze, as the marksmen readied his bow, and Cylis summoned more vaporous Kathrams from deep within the Mist. A seething, chittering mass of voracious insects descended on these savage mist-elementals, who stemmed the black insect tide long enough for Cylis and the Archer to retreat to the entrance to the Bone Maze. The swarm hounded their every footstep, and Cylis only reached the door moments before being overtaken by the chittering horde. As they set foot inside, the bleached bone wall knit together behind them, showing no sign that there had ever been a door. A long, dark hallway made from the bones of a multitude of creatures beckons the stranded travellers…