The party members split up, with Dela trying to gather information by playing traders off of one another, Addy and Winter wandering and asking passersby for help, and Yurgrim and Alfred going into one of the bars (The Hungry Hippo) for rumors. Eventually they found the name of a contact (Captain Jaren) and found her in The Salty Pringle (another inn). Captain Jaren offered her story for a price, and, after negotiating to 15gp, told them a story: One night she got drunk with friends and fell into the stormy waters off the dock. A freak wave picked her up and threw her on shore, where she miraculously landed safely on her feet. Soon after, a deva came by, took her to a tower in the town to interrogate her, and then took her inside the gates. There, an old man asked more questions before sending her back into the city. Jaren finished her story in smug glee for having been able to sell her tale for a full 15gp.
The party reunited, and Dela entered The Salty Pringle alone. There, she flattered Captain Jaren, claiming that she had already heard the story, but wanted to hear it from the Captain herself. For the price of an ale, Jaren retold the story, this time including the critical detail of the location of the deva's tower. The party promptly went to the tower, a repurposed silo, and knocked on the door. After waiting and hearing no answer, they entered.
Inside they found a stony-faced deva staring at them a few feet from the door: "Why have you come?" The party explained that they wished to enter Ashara, and the deva took them to the small room at the top of the tower, offering them water and a place to sit before interrogating them as to their purpose and desires. The deva, who identified himself as Keeper, was insistent that nobody who entered Ashara ever chose to leave again, and that tourists were unsuited to enter. Almost on the verge of giving up, Yurgrim reached into his pack and pulled out a large coin: the Daelon Mark, the signal of the authority of the king of Tyrell. The deva's eyes widened for the first time. Perhaps, he admitted, the party should be shown into the gates, even if he doubted they would be allowed to enter Ashara truly.
Following Keeper, the party again approached the gates of Silverport. There, the deva put his hand to the door, which glowed and opened. Nobody laughed at them this time around. The party entered into the massive carved stone hall, with innumerable thick pillars stretching towards the impossibly high ceiling. "Wait here," said Keeper. He then closed the door again, shutting the party off from himself and the world.
The party waited. After a minute or so they heard the echoing footsteps of an approaching stranger. The man, a bald human wearing robes and a glistening white necklace, greeted the party and asked them to follow. As he led them past columns and hallways, he asked: "What brings you to Ashara?" Alfred answered in full, explaining Archibald's divine inspiration, his request of them, and their current mission in Ashara. The man listened quietly before pointing them towards a room and taking his leave.
Entering the room, the party met an old man who immediately asked them how they had found their way. Their explanation puzzled him. "It should be just me here", he insisted. But with more pressing matters at hand, the man introduced himself as Master Vilarr. "So, you're looking to immigrate to Ashara!" he began. But the party explained that they were in fact on a diplomatic mission, again telling their story. Vilarr insisted that those who belonged in Ashara never left, and explained why this was so certain a truth: every immigrant to Ashara is granted a prophecy by one of the three resident prophets. This prophecy tells them how to find success and their own happy place in Asharan society. Perhaps the party could hear their Asharan prophecy, and then decide whether to stay? The party agreed.
First, the prophet had to be chosen. There were three: the Seer, the Fool, and the Dead Man. The Seer spoke absolute truth, but only spoke in vague language and mysterious tones. The Fool was candid and friendly and led people to good ends, but lied freely and frequently in his descriptions of the future. The Dead Man gave no knowledge of what would happen in the future, but offered specific and direct instructions that would lead to success and triumph. For some unknown reason, only one prophecy was ever given to each new group in Ashara, so the party had to choose.
After much discussion, Winter led the group to decide upon the Dead Man as a compromise. They entered a small room with a desk and, sitting behind it, a gaunt man. The man sat perfectly still, save for his extraordinarily shallow breaths. He did not react to the party's presence, but when Master Vilarr stepped out and closed the door, the Dead Man's head rose by an inch and he spoke:
“Stay together. For each of you, Ashara has a gift.
Dela. Find the smallest and grandest merchant. Reject what he offers. Reject what he offers. The third time, accept.
Adelaide. Find the elf at the city’s center. Make him give up his livelihood, and take it.
Apostolos. Exit the city, and find the hunter. Befriend him. Do not tell him your name.
Akohsera:ke. Find the blue house, and break in. Do not let the one inside leave, and you will find what you came for.
Yurgrim. Follow the magic. Help.
When you all are done, wait until night. Follow the cloud of darkness. When you reach the precipice, destroy those who guided you. Then, wait at the edge. Win the battle that comes. Follow the tracks, and destroy the treasures you find. So shall you set this land free.”
With this said, the Dead Man's head dropped again, and the party departed his room. Master Vilarr asked: would they be staying in Ashara? With a taciturn affirmation, the party followed Vilarr to the great hall, and then to the doors opposite those they entered. As he opened them, Vilarr spoke: "Welcome to Ashara". Shining white buildings and immaculate cobblestone greeted the party underneath a perfect blue sky. Beyond the city were lush grasslands, and beyond that, an untamed forest. The mountains that surrounded the isle seemed porous and almost hollow when viewed from the inside, and above these mountains was a ring of mists and storm clouds. But within the limits of Ashara, paradise held firm.
The party, however, took little time to enjoy the sights. Suspicious of the tales and their treatment so far, they decided to follow the Dead Man's prophecy immediately. Dela asked a passerby: what might the "smallest and grandest merchant" mean? "You must be new!" smiled the eladrin, recognizing the sound of prophecy. But he happily explained that it certainly referred to a gnome, small even for her kind, who ran a shop for luxury clothes (mostly capes and cloaks): Cloak and Swagger.
The party found the shop, and Dela approached the gnome. After some discussion of Dela's likes and dislikes, the excitable shopkeeper ventured into the racks of cloaks, eventually emerging with a splendid red and gold cloak in hand and a complete expectation that Dela would buy. When Dela refused to even touch the cloak, instead letting it fall the the floor, the gnome vascillated between confused, enraged, and heartbroken. The gnome eventually gathered her spirits, threw the cloak into the firepit, and went to find another, again emerging with a magnificent garment. When Dela refused again, the gnome was apoplectic with rage for a moment before suddenly calming down and offering Dela a cloak for free. She then disappeared into the back room for a few moments before returning to hurl a ragged piece of cloth at Dela while yelling "TOO PERFECT?!" in wild-eyed anger. Dela took the cloak and departed without further argument.
Outside the shop, the cloak was revealed to be full of holes and smelling musty, in a state so shabby that even a beggar would find no good cause to wear it. Dela confirmed that it was nonmagical and put it in her pack disdainfully. The party agreed to move on to Addy's task, again asking for directions and finding their next destination: the circular clearing at the city's center.
There they found an elf painting on an easel with brush and palette in hand. He was finishing a picture of a Cravith Heights volcano, with the lava represented by a strangely glowing red paint. As he finished his beautiful work of art, he sighed sadly and placed it on a growing pile of painted canvases beside him, before pulling out a new canvas. Addy approached the elf and asked why he threw away such a skillful piece of work. The elf gave his disjointed explanation in between sighs and sad glances at his art. Ashara, he explained, was a cage. He had nothing waiting for him outside, and would do nothing but paint in any case, but the limitations of Ashara had stricken any artistic inspiration from his mind. After much discussion, Addy was able to implant the suggestion that the elf join his brethren in the forest outside the city and try to find inspiration in nature. Meanwhile, Addy and the others slowly took the painter's tools out of his hands. The elf eventually stood and walked, with a spark of hope, towards the wilderness. Addy kept his paints, including the strange glowing red one, which burned where it touched her hands.
Next came Alfred's task. The party exited the city over its main bridge and saw an aging human sitting comfortably by the side of the river. Alfred and the others sat beside him, and the friendly man struck up a conversation. He spoke of many things, including his glorious years as a hunter devoted to Melora. He then asked Alfred to tell his name and purpose in Ashara. When Alfred bluffed unconvincingly, the man began to grow annoyed. But Dela spoke up, explaining that Alfred was a compulsive liar (and telling this lie in the most compelling and believable way possible). The man's budding hostility turned to pity, and he continued to tell his story, explaining that he had been exiled from the city of Tyrell after hunting in the woods that "belonged" to the noble house of Hadad. After much and more conversation, he offered a gift to the poor warden: a magical pelt that would keep out the cold. After all wished each other well, the party re-entered the city.
After more queries, the party found directions to "the blue house": the location of Winter's strange task. The party dawdled in the street outside the dwelling while Winter jumped along the roofs of the buildings to reach the attic entrance of the blue house. She found the lock already opened, and entered stealthily, hearing footsteps in the master bedroom. When the figure in the bedroom exited to the hallway, Winter tried to back away and hide, but knocked over a broom, and the clatter gave her away. Both Winter and the other, an eladrin, froze in their tracks and stared at each other, with the eladrin shoving his hands into his pockets. Each was on edge, and a strange, mutually accusatory conversation took place. Eventually the eladrin began asserting that Winter was a thief and an intruder, and demanded that the shifter leave. When Winter explained that her prophecy demanded that he stay in the house, his eyes widened and he bolted for the stairs. Winter followed, but the eladrin tripped before she could get there, so she pounced on him after he stopped tumbling down the stairs. Then, she pulled out her daggers and drove them through the eladrin's clothes and into the floor to pin him down... or she would have, had she not missed and instead stabbed the eladrin through the shoulder.
Outside, another eladrin had approached the front door and tried to enter, but Yurgrim and the others stopped him. This eladrin was confused and increasingly concerned, and when he heard the scream from inside, threw off the hands of the party, unlocked the door, and entered. There, he dryly greeted the stabbed one as Zerr, while Zerr addressed him as Zelin. It was explained that the two had been rogues before reaching Ashara, and now they had a friendly competition of trying to steal from each other (and Zerr had been hiding thieves' tools in his pockets). Zelin, thanks to the party's intervention, had now won. Zelin patched up his friend and then went upstairs to reward Winter for her efforts, presenting her with a magical cape that he had used in his youth. With this kindness, and with the curt request to never enter his house again, Zelin dismissed the party back into the streets.
With only one task remaining, Yurgrim tried to detect magic in the city. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until a sudden blast of magic struck from the eastern side of town. The party followed it and found a young human mage pacing up and down the street in front of some warehouses. Yurgrim asked if he could help. "Can you keep a secret?" asked the mage. He explained that he had been trying out a new spell, but didn't think it could work. After much hemming and hawing, he admitted that he had tried to summon an imp from the Nine Hells. The divine protections around Ashara should have prevented the summoning from working, but to his surprise and horror, he had actually summoned five imps to the city. They remained trapped inside a warehouse for now, but he needed someone to get rid of them.
The party let the mage open the door and stormed in. When the door slammed behind them, they found themselves in pitch darkness. Even with Dela's Everburning Torch lit, the pillars in the room obscured plenty of dark corners. From this darkness and seemingly out of thin air, two imps appeared and lashed out at the party with their tails dripping poison. But the party stood together and quickly killed the monsters. The other imps were more cautious, poisoning the party, flying around, turning invisible, and trying to remain in the shadows. But with so limited a space, and with so many powerful heroes in the room, the imps were all soon slain. Yurgrim recovered the mage's magic brooch, which was promptly gifted to him in thanks.
With all five prophesied treasures found, the party takes a much needed (albeit short) rest...
Next Session: THE DEAD MAN SAID