The Keepers of Los Claustros

Act I: Whispers of War

Once per year, our world is assaulted by strange beasts from another realm. In this desolate place, we are left to protect the innocents around us. Each of us has been drawn here for a different reason. Some have had visions. Some have come for money. Some have come because they have nowhere else to go.

The world is in turmoil. As we prepare for the yearly attack, omens appear – omens suggesting that events have conspired to bring us here – that we might be the only ones who can stand between Los Claustros and the Black – that things are much, much worse than anybody thought.

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Prologue: The Keepers Assemble

Dru, the half-orc fighter.
Mhera, the gith shaman.
Orianna, the tiefling psion.
Aurora, the shifter runepriest.
Three-Jack, the warforged seeker.
Oak, the wilden sorcerer.

This is the group assembled in the town square tonight. Of all the warriors, all the brave gunslingers and swordsmen, this motley group are the ones who answered the call. Though they are not humans, these are the six who will stand up to protect Los Claustros. Remember their faces, for they have elected to put their lives on the line for your protection!

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Chapter 1: Population 178

“Those dirty, elven dogs have made off with my daughter. Get after them,” shouted the angry, red-faced mayor. Victor Van Fleet, the career politician, the xenophobic and ineffectual governor of Los Claustros, ordered the Keepers to go, and so they went. They checked downstairs with Hodor Perrin, the proprietor of The Empty Barrel, who had little to offer. He pointed the Keepers south.

They came upon farmer Doug, an old herdsman, as he was chased across a field by a pack of angry hopalongs. Rorith, the fearsome wild mage, blasted the enormous frogs with bolts of chaotic energy as Dru and Aurora charged headfirst intothe fray. Orianna gleefully slammed two of the frogs together, bursting them like bags of jelly. She then perched on a fencepost, laughing gaily. With a perfect shot, Three Jack blasted the final frog through it s hideous, warty head, and the battle was over.

After a brief interrogation, Doug revealed that he had illegally bred his hopalongs with wild ones in order to increase their size – but more importantly, that he had seen a group of elves moving south.

Further along the road, the Keepers were stopped by a trio of well-armed highwaymen. While Dru and Orianna attempted to turn the robbers from their life of crime, only one of the would-be attackers fled. When the others stood their ground, the Keepers attacked. Dru engaged one of them by himself, but was aided by a carefully ricocheted shot from Three Jack’s rifle. Dru hacked off the bandit’s arm and knocked him out with a single blow, and the other robber was quickly cut down by the combined efforts of Orianna, Aurora, and Rorith.

When the prisoner woke up, the Keepers questioned him as to the whereabouts of the elven nomads, then turned him loose. Again they rode. After a short journey, they came upon the elven camp. While the others went ahead, Three Jack remained hidden in order to keep a sniper’s eye on the proceedings. The Keepers found Veronica Van Fleet and discover that she had eloped with a young elven warrior. She refused to leave, and so the Keepers allowed the girl to relay a message to her father. They traded supplies with the tribe and received a key to Veronica’s box of belongings in her father’s estate. They then returned to Los Claustros, where the mayor confronted them. They elected to ignore him, and he stormed away.

Three Jack took the key to Veronica’s goods and snuck into the Van Fleet estate house, where he opened the chest and gathered further rewards for his party. The group returned to The Empty Barrel, where they found Mhera, the gith shaman, awaiting them.

“Trouble is a-brewin’ in the town square,” she said. “A gunslinger is about to ride in, and there’s an angry mob waiting for him.”

Hodor calls Orianna to the bar, where they confer in a hushed silence. She returns to her group and suggests they ride out to deal with this lone gunslinger while she prepares for their next assignment.

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Chapter 2: The Gunslinger's Shadow

The half-orc rode into town with a warning. “Evacuate the town, or everyone will die.” The Keepers discovered that this man, Gnash, was the herald of a gang of ruthless marauders. Gnash, though he lived in terror of Warchief Kleaver, tried to convince other settlements to run away. A closer analysis revealed that Gnash feared Kleaver so greatly because Kleaver had killed Gnash’s father, the previous chief.

The Keepers refused to surrender, so Gnash attacked them. “I would kill each of you,” he said, “to save these innocents.” The Keepers subdued him. Among his belongings, they found a handmade holster with the message “TO MY SON, PROTECT WHAT YOU LOVE.” When he awoke they convinced him to stand against the horde.

When Kleaver arrived, Gnash challenged him to a duel for the right to lead the horde. Kleaver assented and struck down Gnash in a single blow. The Keepers, seeing their investment damaged, jumped into the fray. They managed to incapacitate Kleaver and his bodyguards. The wounded Gnash finally managed to stand. He approached the hamstrung warchief and shot him dead.

Gnash took off his holster and laid it on his enemy’s chest. Without taking control of the horde, he left to wander the desert.

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Chapter 3: Caravan

The trade route to Hammermount had been compromised. Traders came back wounded, their caravans in shambles. Desperate to maintain the economy of the region, Mayor Van Fleet authorized the Keepers to escort the wheat supply caravan safely to the dwarven stronghold.

Though the road was fraught with danger, the Keepers made quick progress. They came upon a hatch of newly-awakened Thri-Kreen (starving and without manners). The chieftain of the Thri-Kreen demanded tribute, but a quick-witted lie from Orianna convinced the insectoids that the caravan did not carry food; instead, that it was a decoy meant to confuse bandits. The thri-kreen accepted the lie, and the Keepers gave them a parting gift of gold and directed them to a settlement outside of Los Claustros where they might trade for food and supplies.

The Keepers continued toward Hammermount, where the caravan met a roadblock. The area had been captured by a troop of rogue warforged. A display of strength managed to activate the combat inhibitors for two of them. The rest, through cunning and valor, were swiftly annihilated. Rorith, always interested in arcane workings, managed to reprogram one of the deactivated bots to serve as his bodyguard.

The caravan arrived safely, and once the traders’ business was done, they returned to Los Claustros.

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Chapter 4: The Rite of Black Autumn

Weeks after the Keepers’ return from Hammermount, a pack of shifters, led by the tracker Timber, came calling for Aurora. They demanded she return to the Briarwood for her execution. With the support of her fellow Keepers, she remained steadfast and refused to accept punishment for a crime she did not commit. Timber (who grew up with Aurora and once dearly loved her) offered an alternative. He could invoke the Rite of Black Autumn, a trial of sorts in which Nature itself was the judge. The Keepers accepted the compromise and prepared for battle.

Once night fell, the natural world came to live. From all sides, Los Claustros was beset by elementals. As water elementals slithered in from the east, Dru lept into the fray. From the north came a pair of monstrous earth golems, which climbed up a building and cornered Three-Jack in his sniper’s nest. From the west came a pair of shambling vegetation monsters, which blasted at the group with mind-control spores and disabling pollens.

Rorith locked himself in the Empty Barrel and provided covering fire for his friends. Mhera stood in the center of town while Roc, her spirit companion, teleported among the buildings and aided Three-Jack and Dru. One of the vegetation creatures quickly subdued Aurora, making her fall into a deep slumber. Three-Jack leapt from the building and fired at the golems from cover, though they leapt down after him.

Soon, one of the vegetation creatures managed to infect Mhera with a mind-control spore. Against her will, the shaman even further enhanced the powers of her enemies. Three-Jack, without the support of Aurora or Mhera, was knocked unconscious. Dru, standing alone against the watery beasts, was knocked out and began to drown on dry land.

As Aurora began to stir from her slumber, Mhera managed to shake the plants’ control. In that tiny window of time, she mended the wounds of Three-Jack and managed to escape from the grasp of the moss creatures. Aurora arose, and though the monsters attempted to control her mind, she remained resolute and fought back. Through all of this, Rorith managed to wear down the golems. With Three-Jack’s help, he eliminated them.

The Keepers turned their sights on the vegetation monsters and managed to quickly purge them. They then turned on the water creature, only to find Dru in his death throes, unable to maintain his tenuous hold on life. As they cut down the water elemental and rushed to his side, Dru expired.

In the morning, they buried him in the shade.

Timber arrived. Because Aurora survived, he declared her innocent by law. He revealed that the laws of the Briarwood are clear, and that she and her companions would be allowed to investigate the crime scene to their liking.

When they arrived at the Briarwood, a thorough investigation uncovered a number of facts.
1. The victim’s name was Brian Groot, a half-elf trader.
2. Brian had been murdered by arcane magic – specifically, fire.
3. The killer had used “The Murderer’s Staff” to eliminate Brian.
—The Murderer’s Staff is currently in Rorith’s possession.
4. Brian had travelled with a companion, who one (blind) witness described as having an unearthly voice.
5. A map was found inside the staff, which included the names of each of the Keepers, as well as their locations previous to Los Cluastros. Another name was included: Ari.

With Aurora’s innocence sufficiently proven, she was honorably dismissed from her ancestral home. Timber, in apology for his singleminded pursuit and strict adherence to the word of law, revealed plans to retire from his pack. He gave Aurora the gift of his totem.

The Keepers returned to their home and set out to recruit a new member in order to replace their fallen comrade.

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Chapter 5: The Family That Stays Together

After weeks of journeying, Ari made it to Los Claustros. Once there, the Keepers confirmed her great fear: her only friend and companion for a decade, Dru, had fallen in battle. She elected to join up with the Keepers to fulfill her friend’s destiny.

The next stop on her quest was a visit with her estranged father. They had a joyful reunion, but Ari soon ascertained that her father was in trouble. He owed an immense sum of money to the Gnomish Cartel, and the collateral they held was Ari’s older brother, Jesse. With no way to pay off the debt and no desire to see the criminals run free, the Keepers elected to crash the party.

They already knew that farmer Doug had done some shady dealings with a crew of gnomes. After a bit of squeezing and intimidation, the peon was ready to talk. He revealed the location of a gnomish hideaway where the Cartel agents were hiding.

The Keepers rode out and easily found this haven. The gnomes immediately offered to parlay. The Keepers offered Rorith’s warforged servant and Three-Jack in exchange for Jesse. Once the exchange was made and Jesse was safe, the Keepers cracked down and wiped out the entire cartel (save the leader, Nix).

They returned to Los Claustros, where Ari’s family reunited.

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Chapter 6: Witch's Brew

In the night, a message came. Written on tree bark in the language of the Briarwood, Rorith’s brother called for help. A curse lay over him, and death was near. His brother, the exiled mage, had become his only hope.

And so the Keepers packed their bags and left, for never would they let one of their own face danger without aid. At the edge of the forest, wilden sentries reluctantly allowed the travelers passage. They moved deeper, far deeper into the woods, until they came upon a wilden settlement build into the very trees. Rorith entered Olden’s hut. The chieftain lies in bed, paralyzed, his warhammer by his side. He asks the sorcerer to help break the curse, but Rorith is fraught with conflict. This was, after all, the brother who had seen him exiled. But Olden was so weak. Rorith assented.

The other Keepers entered the room and began to collect information. They managed to extract only a modicum of information from the ailing warrior, who insisted he had been hexed by a witch who lived deep in the heart of the Briarwood. Rorith waved his hands over his brother and examined the curse, probing it, finding it impenetrable. It could only be removed once the witch lay dead or agreed to help lift it. Even then, the cure was potentially deadly. But the Keepers had no choice. They ventured into the wood.

The witch was ready. But she seemed a harmless old crone. Her cabin, nearly falling apart, lay in shambles. Every inch of space seemed occupied by twisted roots and strange, primal specimens in clay jars. When asked about the curse, she explained that she went to the wilden for help, and that they had turned her away. “A demon comes for me,” she confessed. She continued, explaining that the demon desired to harvest her soul, and that she sought protection from the wilden tribes. When turned away, she responded by hexing the chief. The tribe sent wave after wave of hunters after her. She smiled proudly.

She agreed to help lift the curse from Olden, but only if the Keepers could aid her in fighting the demon that hunted her. The Keepers were unsure, and then they noticed something. The twisted roots, the specimens in jars, all seemed familiar. Rorith was the first to realize – they were the remains of his tribesmen. The witch had slaughtered any that came her way. He and the other Keepers elected to help her, but secretly planned to exact justice once the curse had been lifted.

The witch prepared a ritual to draw the demon into corporeality, but it needed a host. After much debate, Mhera offered her familiar, Roc, an extension of her very soul, to the demon. But the demon had another plan entirely.

The lights snuffed out, then began to blaze with an unholy light. The witch levitated away from the floor, possessed by an otherworldly energy. The demon had finally taken its quarry. It turned its sights on Roc. The Keepers, though, always ready for a rumble, carved into the hag’s body. The demon wrenched itself free of its mortal coil, and all was normal.

And then somebody knocked at the door. When they answered, they were greeted by a tall, grim-faced man in top hat and suit. He requested, as demons sometimes do, in an ever so humble tone, that he be served Roc’s soul. Then, he would leave for the night. Enough time for the Keepers to flee.

But they refused his vile offer. The Keepers swarmed around Mhera and Roc. The gentleman-devil smiled and called out to the forest, “Join me, children.” And the sounds of play echoed. A swarm of children, most of them younger than ten, emerged from the forest, each wielding a long butcher knife or other household implement. The Keepers barred the door, but the children, followed by their paternal master, teleported into the hut. Over and over, the Keepers cut down the frail-looking demon as his minions swarmed over them. And when he was cut down, the children formed a ritual circle and slit their own throats. Their tainted blood pooled, and from that pool sprang the same demon! Over and over, in an endless tide, the children came, and died, and in their blood the demon was reborn, until finally the Keepers had exhausted his supply of thralls. And he stood broken and defeated, and then the Keepers put him to the sword.

At the wilden village, they stood over Olden. The curse still stood. Rorith prepared his reagents, and with a muttering of incantations, he plunged his hand deep into Olden’s chest and removed a blistered, rotten shell that had formed around his heart. The chieftain screamed, and then sighed, and then he was cured.

He apologized to his brother and finally, after years of silence, explained the circumstances behind Rorith’s exile. Olden elected to step down as chieftain, bestowing his ceremonial hammer upon his brother. Olden promised to try to change the anti-magical ways of the tribe, though both he and Rorith knew that task would be a difficult one.

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Chapter 7: A Rebellion Crushed

And one day, Three-Jack forgot who he was. His hands forgot how to grip a bow, to nock an arrow. He forgot the faces of his friends and allies. He forgot how to run, to speak, to think beyond the immediate. He had only one thought: Master Sunstar.

And so the Keepers led him north, to Hammermount, where he was forged from steel and euphorenium, where the great artificer Sunstar had imbued him with sentience and strength. But they found Hammermount, capitol of all the dwarven lands, in a state of unrest. The gate to the city, once manned by dwarven snipers and warforged shock troops alike, was guarded only by a cadre of malfunctioning automatons. While the Keepers cut the attackers down immediately, Rorith cracked open one of them and tinkered with its arcane processor. He programmed it to follow only his orders, to obey only him.

Inside Hammermount, dwarven sentries greeted the Keepers, telling them that the Goliaths of the Melancholy Mountains had staged a revolt and seized a portion of the city. The rebels, under the leadership of a revolutionary named Greytusk, had even captured the Sunstar Anvil, the cavern in which all warforged are born. And without a constant supply of warforged, the dwarves were forced into a war of attrition.

The Keepers, always ready to help and intent on finding Sunstar, made their way into the capitol. In the war room, they found a dwarf woman of severe features named Aela Haydron, a rising star in the field of politics, working with a young mage. The mage identified himself as Moro Sunstar, son of Three-Jack’s creator. The father, Magnus Sunstar, had passed away only a year before. When asked about Three-Jack’s dwindling memory, Sunstar confirmed the Keepers’ great fear: that Three-Jack needed to access the memory banks held within the Sunstar Anvil. Held by the Goliaths.

And it was with little coaxing that the Keepers approached the anvil’s chamber. However, they reached a cave-in under the watch of a crew of goliath sentries. As dwarven machinery attempted to move the rubble, the goliaths continually caved the roof in, forcing the workers to start completely over. The Keepers, however, arranged a parley.

In the rebel encampment, Greytusk, leader of the goliaths, told tales of woe and oppression at the hands of cold, unsympathetic dwarven masters. He begged for the Keepers’ help, even offering to allow them access to the Sunstar Anvil once the city was seized.

And thus, the Keepers weighed their options: assassinate the leader of a hopeless but justified rebellion, or turn the tide of the revolt by siding against their former allies. With the possibility of war for Los Claustros if they turned against the dwarves in mind, the Keepers slaughtered Greytusk and his guards. And just like that, the rebellion lost its figurehead.

The Keepers used the Sunstar Anvil to access Three-Jack’s memory, but when they did they discovered something else. Before he died, Magnus Sunstar left a message for Three-Jack, urging him to rise to his full potential. New memories flooded Three-Jack’s mind, and when he awoke from his fugue state, he found himself renewed with physical energy, and somehow reunited with the mind of his creator. Magnus then spoke from inside Three-Jack’s head and offered to guide his hand with knowledge and wisdom.

The Keepers left thereafter, but the halls of Hammermount rang for days with the death cries of slaughtered rebels at the hands of a newly-born army of warforged. In a landslide victory, Aela Haydron was elected Chancellor of the Dwarven High Council.

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Chapter 8: Madness in Freedom

News reached the Empty Barrel of a crime spree in Freedom. A rash of murders, targeting tiefling women, had erupted. Without thinking, without consulting with her fellow Keepers, Orianna set out for her home city. After all, tieflings were her people. Though few and far between, they shared a common bond – a connective tissue. Her teammates gave chase, and soon they arrived at the capitol of The Human Federation.

The rumors swirled around the lower quarters – a slasher on the loose – a cave – one would-be victim escaped and held in custody. The Keepers tracked her to a barracks, where city guards held her under tight watch. When Orianna requested to see her, however, the guards unflinchingly allowed her access. Whether this was because of her racial affinity, her psionic power, or something else, Orianna entered suspiciously.

The girl was no older than eighteen, much like Orianna, afflicted with just a drop of demonic influence, enough to wear an aura of supernatural beauty and existential fear. The girl told them what she knew – a man, a human noble, abducted her, rode out to a cave, and prepared a ritual slaughter. She escaped only because the killer was so distracted by his own mad ravings. “Her, it’s her, they’re all her.”

Orianna and the Keepers paid a superstitious local tracker an immense sum to take them out to one of the only inhabitable caves in the area – just outside the city walls, away from prying eyes. They released the woodsman of his contract and entered the cave. Orianna scanned the main rooms for any signs of him, and she found it. A book, bound in red leather with gold edging around the pages. A note written in the cover. She slammed it shut before the others could see.

Then, they found him. Joseph, a wild-eyed man dressed in what once must have been elegant finery, now too small for him, worn through and dirty. “It’s you!” He summoned an undead guardian, one of his stitched-together tiefling girls, and attacked.

Orianna defended herself, and with the aid of the rest of the Keepers, managed to subdue his creatures. She then impaled Joseph before he could preemptively reveal her secret. The reason she had fled to the city was because she was responsible for this. She had not raised a finger to kill these girls, but it had been her immense psionic power that snapped the mind of her childhood rival – a boy named Joseph. For years, he had been stashed away in an abattoir, but then his wealthy parents ran out of money and he was thrown onto the streets, obsessed with exacting his revenge against Orianna. She took the necklace from around his neck. A necklace he had stolen from her in their childhood – a simple brass pendant, and she draped it around her neck. She confessed it all to her allies, and for the first time they embraced her – not as a fellow Keeper, but as a friend and fellow sufferer. She vowed silently that she would continue to increase her power until even the flow of time was hers to command. And then, she would return to her childhood and stop any of this from happening.

In the morning, the Keepers told the escaped tiefling that her captor was dead. She smiled, the kind only a beleaguered woman can smile, and asked where they would go next. The Keepers told her of Los Claustros, where the people were all right, and you could see the mountains, and there was no bustle. The girl asked if she could come along.

Within days, she was the star of the town. Everyone flocked to the Empty Barrel on the nights she was working. Orianna smiled, proud of her new friend, the barmaid, the pretty tiefling with a heart of gold. Also waiting at the bar was a hulking figure with the body of a shark, who introduced himself as Kove. He told the Keepers of a past in which he protected other towns as part of a roving band of adventurers. But, having found himself the last of his crew, he elected to spend his time preparing Los Claustros for the oncoming D-Day.

With Kove’s bolstering presence in the group, Orianna decided to return East to search for more suitable candidates for Keeperhood. She bid the group farewell and promised to return before the portals opened.

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