Tasker is a myth among explorers. According to the tales, this brilliant gnome was driven from House Sivis when he sought to expose secrets that had been sealed by his house. Some say he was killed at this time. But others claim that he wanders the world, passing his knowledge to those who need it. This dispatch could be found under a rock where the party chooses to make camp. It could be found tied to the leg of a bird. Is it sheer coincidence that the party acquires this knowledge? Or is Tasker pointing them toward their destiny?
When the PCs acquire the parchment, read the following:
This weathered parchment bears the arcane mark of the winged eye.
If a PC can make a successful DC 15 Knowledge (nobility and royalty), Knowledge (local), or Knowledge (arcana) check, read the following. This is a continuation of the text found in the second part of Tasker's missive.
Those versed in the lore of the dragonmarked houses recognize this symbol as the sigil of Tasker, excoriate of House Sivis.
You have seen the walls of Taer Valaestas. You have walked the streets and seen its face in daylight. Now it is time to discuss the dangers -- the hidden thorns of Taer Valaestas.
The Law of the Land
In Taer Valaestas, and indeed in all of Valenar, you have two forces of law: the Tairnadal military and the civilian justiciars. Mounted soldiers patrol the major roads, and stealthy rangers hide in the shadows, hoping to find challenging prey. However, needless cruelty and unnecessary violence are frowned upon. The taer is a military fortress, and the soldiers of the Valaes Tairn are expected to maintain order. As long as you don't start any trouble, you are likely left alone.
The soldiers do an excellent job of bringing a swift and decisive end to any violence or obvious crime. However, they have little interest in hearing civilian disputes. The justiciars handle these matters. While the justiciars are technically civil servants, the fact of the matter is that House Lyrandar appoints them, and that the inquisitive arm of the department includes many heirs of House Medani; with the exception of a few zaelantar diplomats and mediators, all of the justiciars are half-elves. The justiciars hear pleas and conduct investigations. In purely civil cases, the justiciars are authorized to set punishments and dispense justice. If the matter involves members of the Valenar host, a zaelantar mediator discusses the matter with the officers of the warclan in question.
All Valenar stand above civilian law and are governed by military hierarchy; a thaliaen is expected to maintain order among his troops, and a thaliaen can be disciplined only by an officer of raethalast or higher rank. There is no assurance of justice in a case involving a Valenar soldier, but if an officer feels that the soldier was at fault (most likely because he dishonored his ancestor) or that the incident has a chance of causing considerable unrest, he may punish the soldier or order reparations to maintain goodwill. However, Valenar does not operate under the Code of Galifar; the soldiers have even more freedom than those who enforce the Code of Kaius in Karrnath. There is no presumption of innocence and no trial by jury. If a Tairnadal soldier has the blessing of his commanders, he may act as he deems necessary with no fear of the consequences.
Violent crime is met with violence. Otherwise, a lucky foreigner may be fined and exiled from the land via the first ship leaving for the west. Criminals who draw less sympathy from the justiciars may be scarred, maimed, or executed in a colorful manner, depending on the severity of the crime. Incarceration is rarely used as a form of punishment, but you could be assigned a stay in the arena, in which case you are forced to fight other criminals or thrill-seeking Valenar; if you can survive your sentence, your crime is forgiven.
I advise you to do what you can to avoid contact with the law of Valenar. This is not a place to start a fight. If you must challenge the rule of the High King, just remember that you aren't in Breland any more. It may not be as dangerous as Zilargo, but the city of thorns is a bad place to be a criminal.
This may seem obvious to you. Taer Valaestas is not only a city, it is an armed camp; naturally the law is enforced, and severely. So let us turn to subtler dangers. I cannot promise these tales are true; given the harsh guardians of the law, if these threats were easily uncovered, they would have already been eliminated. These forces may hide in the city of thorns; you will have to find the truth of these stories yourself.
The wars between the Valaes Tairn and the Empire of Dhakaan were long and bitter. One to one, the elves were superior warriors with arcane magic on their side. But the Dhakaani forces possessed discipline and courage, and far outnumbered their elf foes . . . and while the typical Tairnadal ranger had more experience than his short-lived Dhakaani counterpart, champions among the goblinoids could match any elf. These included the goblin assassins known as the shaarat'khesh, the "silent knives" of Dhakaan.
Though Taer Valaestas was placed under siege multiple times, its walls broke only after the Valaes Tairn returned to Aerenal. The greatest Dhakaani victory at Taer Valaestas was one of stealth, not open warfare. A little over a century after the first conflict between elf and goblin, a band of skilled shaarat'khesh assassins succeeded in penetrating the walls of Taer Valaestas. These goblins had one goal, and they achieved it: the murder of Maezan Shal, the mighty druid who had crafted Taer Valaestas itself. It was a terrible blow to the Tairnadal host, and to this day none of the Siyal Marrain have ever matched Maezan's skill. But the bards say that Maezan had his revenge on his killers -- that he cursed them so that their souls would be bound to defend the fortress.
The Dhakaani themselves chose not to hold Taer Valaestas after the elves abandoned it. And in the thousands of years that followed, the khunans and others who inhabited the region always kept their distance from the fallen fortress . . . despite the fertile soil, blessed as it is by the energies of Lamannia. I've spoken to khunan storytellers, and their old tales claim that the city is haunted, and that anyone unfortunate enough to encounter one of these "hungry children" will die. There's no way to know, but I think these "children" are in fact goblin ghosts -- the ghosts of Maezan's assassins. The druid may have ordered them to defend the fortress, driving the Dhakaani from the region, but they would have no reason to see humans or Khoravar in any more favorable light. Perhaps the passage of ten thousand years has finally laid these spirits to rest. But ghosts may wander in the night -- the spirits of the deadliest assassins known to the Empire of Dhakaan.
Serpents in the Shadows
Many interesting chapters are buried in the history of Sarlona. These include the magewars that destroyed the southwestern nations, including the kingdom of Khunan. Lhazaar and her followers came from the northwestern nation of Rhiavhaar, but the native humans of Valenar largely trace their ancestry to the refugees of Khunan. Study the tales of Khunan, and you may uncover a more disturbing fact. This land was said to be the birthplace of the race of corrupt serpentfolk known as the yuan-ti. According to legend, the Inspired hunted these creatures to extinction. But dig deep enough and you can find stories of yuan-ti survivors in Xen'drik. These creatures were said to be cunning deceivers, possessing both mental and arcane power. Is it so hard to believe that a few could have slipped across the Sea of Rage with the other refugees? And if so, what powers have they amassed in the intervening centuries?
According to the tales, these yuan-ti are creatures of true darkness -- just as their cousins, the feathered humanoids known as the shulassakar, are touched by pure light. If yuan-ti are in Valenar, they are surely scheming and working to gain greater power and influence. A yuan-ti cabal has many ways to sink its fangs into Taer Valaestas. The city is far from the seat of the Twelve or the Five Nations, and it would be easier for a yuan-ti to take the place of a diplomat or dragonmarked heir in this distant land. While it's bad enough to imagine a serpent in such a position of power, worse yet would be if the serpentfolk seized control of the Lyrandar enclave. Viceroy Shyralla is quickly becoming one of the most influential Khoravar on Khorvaire; what would a yuan-ti do if she became de facto ruler of a half-elf nation? And possibly the greatest risk of all: Could a yuan-ti replace High King Vadallia himself? Could this have happened already . . . in which case the seemingly provocative behavior of Valenar troops may be the opening gambit of a far more sinister game?
The Blood of the East
As I've said before, propaganda is a form of warfare . . . and the Valenar have specialists in all manner of conflict. Valenar bards helped rally the khunan people to the elf banners when they first seized control of the territories; these wordsmiths fanned the hatred the people felt for the "thrones" into a raging flame. This anger served the Valenar well, but it's not so easy to extinguish such a blaze. Today, many among the khunans still bear bitter resentment against the thrones, and Cyrans in particular. I've heard tell of a group that takes this hatred even further, seeking payment in blood for the crimes they believe we have done to their ancestors. This movement is called the Blood of the East, and if you are from Cyre, you may be their next target. If you believe that khunan peasants can't possibly pose a threat to an adventurer of your skills, I advise you to think again. Not all of the khunans are farmers or laborers. As I said in my previous missive, every khunan family has its traditions -- secrets carefully held since their ancestors crossed the Sea of Rage. Some may know secrets of magic lost in the magewars. Others could have powers of the mind -- psychic abilities rivaling those of any kalashtar. And ancient tales of Sarlonan warriors say they can work magic with a sword and thereby perform feats of arms no simple soldier could replicate.
I can't prove that any of this is true. The name is out there on the wind; surely some call themselves the Blood of the East. You will only discover the extent of their powers if you cross their path. But if you hear of Cyran murders, or if tensions grow between the khunans and the Khoravar immigrants who have prospered so in this new land . . . watch for the Blood of the East, and be wary of their ancient ways.
According to the tales, Halas Tarkanan could shake the earth with a wave of his hand, and the Dreambreaker could shift reality with his thoughts. It has long seemed that the power of the aberrant dragonmarks was broken in the War of the Mark. Despite the fear and superstition, for centuries the most powerful aberrant mark that has been seen has been the ability to float instead of fall, or produce a tiny spurt of flame -- nothing like the firestorms attributed to Darya Blaze. But I have traveled the world, and I have seen many things. Aberrant births are on the rise -- random and unpredictable, often concealed or even extinguished by fearful parents, but increasing with each generation. And the powers are growing. I've seen a man who could kill with a touch, and a woman driven mad by the voices she could hear. I don't know if I'll see the next War of the Mark in my lifetime, but I know some already prepare for it. House Tarkanan is gathering aberrants, protecting them and teaching them to use their abilities. The random nature of the aberrant mark means that the heirs of Tarkanan can come from many backgrounds. They can be beggars or priests, farmers or nobles. They can even be Valenar warriors hidden in Taer Valaestas itself.
None can predict when a dragonmark -- aberrant or otherwise -- will manifest. A Valenar soldier could have served in the Last War for three decades before her mark appeared. As disturbing as this is for a human, it is far worse for the Valenar. The religion of the Tairnadal is based around serving as an anchor and vessel for the spirit of a heroic ancestor . . . but none of the champions of Xen'drik carried such marks. In the eyes of her fellows, an aberrant Valenar is a broken vessel, doomed never to know true kinship with the heroes of the past. And yet she is still one of the deadliest soldiers on Khorvaire, all the more dangerous because of the touch of Khyber.
In the Five Nations, members of House Tarkanan often establish themselves as thieves or assassins. In Valenar, you may find something quite different. The rumors I've heard speak of entire warbands of aberrant Valenar. Some yearn for vengeance against a society in which they can no longer take part. Others have brought their love of warfare to bear against the dragonmarked houses. And some are simply driven by the madness and pain that lingers around those who are marked by Khyber. Perhaps it's just another myth, like the tales of aberrants being branded by demons at birth. But whenever I see a Valenar warrior with her veil drawn up across her face, I can't help but wonder what that mask might conceal.
- A warband of aberrant Valenar believes that they can develop bonds to the champions of the War of the Mark, becoming vessels for the spirits of Halas Tarkanan, the Lady of the Plague, and other aberrant lords. They are searching for relics of the fallen aberrants in order to fashion zaelshin tus (Player's Guide to Eberron 145) -- amulets that provide the spiritual link. Such an amulet might greatly increase the power of a character with an aberrant dragonmark . . . but there is the risk that it could truly allow the champion to live again, assuming full control of the wearer's body. Adventurers could clash with these corrupted Valenar anywhere that might have held some significance during the War of the Mark. And should a Valenar become an avatar of one of the aberrant champions, it could spell trouble for the Twelve.
- A small sect of the Blood of the East holds an ancient secret: the skills of the swordsage. For generations, those few who could master this art have served as secret champions of the khunan people. These warriors could prove to be deadly foes to Cyran PCs or others deemed to be enemies of the land. Alternatively, this is a possible background for a PC who wishes to follow the path of the swordsage -- a khunan who takes her skills across the Blade Desert in pursuit of a higher calling.