Captain Revince stomped into the room, his usual frown hiding greater worries. He scanned the familiar faces of Mongoose Squad. "You're all here. Good. I have a job for you.
"No, it's not the wyvern nest. I sent Brandil's crew on that one this morning, for reasons which should become clear. This is something far more serious, which is why I need you. It involves the Lady."
Revince glared, daring anyone to raise a dubious eyebrow. If anyone took issue with the Captain's autumnal romance with the Lady Saffrenia Movrymm, noble Eladrin of Mithrendain, they kept it to themselves. He had to admit, they were an unlikely pair, and the strain she was trying to hide now threatened the harmony of their relationship. She'd refused to address Mongoose Squad directly, appearing inexplicably ambivalent about this mission, so he was here alone, translating her evasive answers into plain soldier-speak.
"The Lady's symbol of office has been stolen, more or less. To be precise, its power has been stolen, most likely captured in some ritual duplicate. This is the dormant original; take a good look, make sure you can recognize it on sight." He produced a gleaming gold signet ring from his pocket and passed it around; it was the ring she always wore, one of her few adornments. Up close, the design carved into the lucent green stone popped into hyper-real focus: the Ourobouros, a snake devouring its own tail, encircling an oak tree. Seven diamonds sparkled along the body of the snake, one of them tinged subtly with red.
Revince continued, "Don't ask me what the symbol means, or what the ring does. The Lady won't tell me, except that it's vital to the security of Mithrendain and to her responsibilities as Councillor. And no, I still don't know exactly why she has requested our hospitality these past two years. She has assured me repeatedly that it was a family matter, unrelated to her political position.
"The theft happened the night before last, while you were out on the hill giant job and I was on temple duty. As she tells it, Lady Saffrenia was wracked by unusual dreams, and awoke with the knowledge that her ring had been drained of power." He shrugged, admitting "It sounds crazy, but then again, you and I know shove-all about magic."
"The Lady is convinced that a rarely-attempted ritual connected her dreams to another dreamer in the Feywild, and through that connection drew the essence of the ring into a duplicate. It's all draconic to me, so I asked Vesper to give me a second opinion. The hedge wizard made a good show of examining the ring, but in the end could only say 'maybe so, maybe so.'"
Revince paused for breath and to assess his audience, finding an even mix of skeptical and impenetrable expressions. "It's not just a bad dream. Would that it were. There's more.
"The old man's auguries went wild that same night. He was scheduled to ask about crop timing, and instead Pelor's angel visited on him a prophecy of our fiery doom. From the look on the acolytes faces, it was loud one. The old man's still in hospice recovering, but he's lucid enough, and last night's sortilage confirmed it. He's never been wrong on anything this big before, and the theft fits the prophecy perfectly Reduced to the basics, we either get this ring back, or Fort Dolor is reduced to smoldering rubble by a remorseless army of Eladrin from the Feywild. 'The army red and gold, our blood and flames foretold,' I'm sure you get the idea. The priests don't know when, how, or why, but they're clear enough that it's do or die.
The Captain stared at each of them in turn, leaned forward, and barked, "So you're going to DO. So nobody has to die. Except your foes, who will fall like chaff from the harvest. Am I clear?" A resounding "Yes, Captain!" brought an uncommon smile to his lips.
After a brief review of squad roles, Revince handed out the special equipment requisitioned for the mission, then continued with the briefing.
"You are to enter the Feywild approximately a days ride southeast of here, in the deep forest. The Lady has provided instructions and waypoints which will lead you to a grove where the barrier between worlds grows thin. After locating the grove, camp at least five hundred paces away, and enter the glade just before dawn; as the sun rises, you should be able to exit into the Feywild. Time your entry carefully to avoid spending too much time in the glade or missing the conjunction entirely, keep your face to the full moon, lest you travel to the dark place instead. A pox on these mysteries, Sehanine forgive me, I wish I could be more specific. Just be careful.
"Once in the Feywild, you may attempt to follow the flow of arcane energy, which tends to spiral inwards towards Mithrendain. As you are untrained in Arcana, you will find the goggles and dust essential. Or, you can navigate normally. Mithrendain lies to the east, and the Sun follows its course in the Feywild just as it does here, Pelor be praised. Mithrendain dominates a wide, low hill west of a great river, and south of the plains. Stay in the forest until you reach Mithrendain.
"The Lady believes that it would be unwise for her to vouch for you, so you will have to find your own way into the city and past any checks or guards you may find. Remember that the Eladrin are not our enemies, at least not yet. As far as we know, Mithrendain admits travellers of all civilized races." He carefully avoided glancing at the Drow. "But I wouldn't expect a warm welcome. You are armed and you are visibly foreign, and it will be difficult to avoid attention. Choose your allies and antagonists carefully, for all our sakes. I know some of you are friends with Brandil and other Eladrin in the company, but don't expect the native Fey to be so easygoing; Brandil's been in this World for over a century and has had a long time to get used to worldly norms.
"As you come closer to the target ring, it should begin calling to the original ring. The power which was stolen has an affinity for its original vessel, or so the Lady says. What that means in practice, I'm not sure; you may feel a tug, or a hunch, or see a thread when using the goggles. You'll just have to try it and see. Failing that, you must rely on your basic investigative training, and look for events coinciding with the time of the theft. Finally, Lady Saffrenia has reluctantly provided me with the name of the other Councillor who she most trusts. Vyndra Sysvani, she said, is more open-minded than many, and might be able to help you if the thief has already moved against the Council. However my Lady would greatly prefer that you find the ring and return without revealing the ring's loss, or any of the details of her situation."
Revince took a deep breath. "Let me be frank with you, since it's your skin on the line. Your first duty is to the Iron Sun, and then by contract to Fort Dolor and the Kingdom of Nerath. Therefore your mission is to retrieve the ring and return home safely, preserving your lives, this keep, and the lands around. If, in addition, you can perform your mission with discretion, preserving the honor and privacy of the Lady Saffrenia, then you will have our profound gratitude. I hope the distinction is clear.
"Once you have retrieved the ring, you may use the scroll of Planar Portal and provided reagents to return directly to Hammerfast. It was sent here from Hammerfast by fast horse yesterday, at great expense, to make sure you could get out safely and reliably. The Defenders of Hammerfast are expecting you, but remember to respect portal protocol as you come through to avoid misunderstanding. Again, do not disclose details of your mission to Hammerfast. Horses are posted for you there, so you may return here immediately for debriefing.
"Now for the part you've been waiting for: this is double pay plus hazard, plus recovered assets after tithing. No grumbling, you know as well as I do that we're stretched thin out here. And if I paid you any more you'd think this was some kind of suicide mission."
There was a long pause. Somebody kicked their boots lightly against a chair. Finally, Muhan cleared his throat frostily and drawled, "Let me see if I've got this straight.
"One, we are to enter the Feywild and retrieve a ring. This ring here, to be precise.
"Two, we may or may not be able to track down that ring, using this ring.
"Three, we are to avoid starting an inter-planar war, except in self-defense. That about right?"
Revince scowled, averted his eyes for a moment, then straightened and answered, "Yeah, that's right. You have your assignments, you have your gear, you know what to do. Just remember that you are representing the Iron Sun out there, so don't frog it up. Now get going, get it done, and get your backsides back here."
He paused, then half-turned away, lowering his voice.
"One last thing, soldiers. Remember the beauty of our world, and don't get too seduced by what you find on the far side. Pelor's light shine upon you." The irony was lost on no-one.