“The nine seasons are: Thaw, Calm, Rain, Grow, Harvest, Burn, Storm, Recede, and Freeze.”
Zidaun had felt the unmistakable sprouting of a new dungeon just a few hours before. Now he was caught in the rising wind of preparations for the trek out to the location. It was almost straight south and, he was fairly sure, it was planted firmly in the the midst of the southern mountains, the Lances. A little to the north of the mountains would be preferable, of course, as it would be both easier to get to and less likely to be in disputed territory. Not that a war would ever apply to him, it would merely be inconveniently far if it lay too deep in the Lances. Adar were neutral, no matter how many petty wars the various Human powers got involved in. Of course, he thought wryly, no Adar could truly understand Humans anyway, they lacked the instinctive kinship all Adar took for granted.
Well… most Adar took for granted. Zidaun would be the first to admit that he was sufficiently happy to be away from his own people at times. He liked his people… in moderation, that was why he had become a seeker instead of staying home. Still, he was bound by the duty all Adar shared. He would go and seek this newly singing dungeon. Even away from home, all Adar served their people. How else could they coexist?
Even without duty… the Adar felt themselves drawn to dungeons, as a tree sought toward the light. He would go, leading his team, even in the deep snows of Freeze, up the mountains until he could enter this new dungeon. There was no way to know what they would find, that was what excited him, and why he was here busily packing. Most newly founded dungeons were precisely that, new. Those dungeons tended to be rough and simple when a team arrived. Zidaun had seen a couple of those, and it would take time for them to develop into something more interesting. Sometimes, however, a dungeon would emerge from hibernation and those could be truly spectacular.
And, there was always the chance that the dungeon would be truly special. Every dungeon was sacred to the Adar, they were each a small part of divinity, and the Adar carried a spark of that connection in each of them. Would this dungeon be awakened? It was intoxicating to think he might reach out to a true divinity, despite the consequences. Well, that was nothing that he could control, and he would not presume to tell a dungeon where and how it ought to grow.
He sighed, getting back to packing, as the soft brown and green of his hands blurred in the familiar motions of preparing for a journey. Knives, heat stones, an oiled canvas tent cover, basic cooking utensils, a communication spell, clothes, and more, found themselves neatly arranged within his pack. Soon everything was ready and he went to meet the rest of his team.
Inda was the only one of his team ready and waiting when Zidaun arrived. Her blonde hair stood out amidst the dark brown wood of the guild meeting room. Zidaun placed his pack on the floor next to hers and then sat down in a wooden chair.
“Well at least you are on time.” she said, “Doesn’t anybody else realize we need to get going?”
Zidaun just closed his eyes and shook his head, his feathery green hair swaying back and forth even as a faint smile graced his lips.
“Firi is almost certainly done,” He said,” he probably just stopped to pray. That’s his nature. As for Gurek… I would think you might know where he is better than I.”
“Hah, I’ve seen you two eyeing each other.”
She spluttered. “No, no, we haven’t done anything yet.”
There was a small pause.
“He’s been eyeing me?”
“Yes! I swear, Firi and I almost started placing bets.”
Their conversation was cut short by the arrival of Firi. His wide frame barely fit through the door, particularly with the furs adding to his bulk.
“I would apologize for being late, but it looks like we still need to wait a bit. Or has Gurek arrived already and just stepped out?
Inda sighed, “We wouldn’t get that lucky. And just because you are not last doesn’t mean you are not late, Firi!”
Firi just rubbed the back of his head sheepishly and smiled. He opened his mouth to reply, but was saved by the growing sound of feet pounding down the hallway. With a faint thump into the side of the doorway, Gurek scrabbled into the room.
“Sorry, sorry! I could not find where I stuffed my ration packs for the life of me; it took me forever to track them down.”
Inda scowled at him. “Considering your room is more hazardous than some dungeons we’ve faced I’m not surprised,” she snapped. “Honestly, Zidaun was the one raised in a swamp, not you.”
“Leave me out of this,” Zidaun muttered, “besides, we keep our swamp quite clean I will have you know.”
The gentle bickering continued for a few moments even as each of them picked up their packs and headed out of the guild hall.
The streets of Asmund greeted them, full of slush and half melted snow, water trickling through the gaps of the cobblestones. The city was fairly warm, the heat kept in by the great clear dome that covered it and a small part of the surrounding land. They picked up mounts, ready and waiting for them, in stables outside the city walls. Shortly after, great furry slogi beneath them, they reached the edge of the dome. Each member of the party said a different command word and the heat stones wrapped up in the furs around them began to work. They advanced through the dome, its magic tingling faintly as their beasts stepped through, and encountered a world buried beneath a dozen feet of snow. The wind blew as cold as a blizzard freezing the sap of a barren forest. They climbed over the snow heading southward, Asmund behind, and an unknown dungeon ahead.
Far to the south, beyond the Lances mountains, another group was coming together.
Tarrae had been enjoying breakfast with his family when he received the summons from the guildhall. Despite the urgency of the summons it had taken some time to extricate himself from his various relatives. His many nieces and nephews had jabbered questions he couldn’t answer about what was so important. Some followed even as he put on heavy furs to brave the cold. His brothers and sisters had just smiled fondly at the children and let him get on with his business. His mother, who had been asking about when he was getting married, fussed over him and gave him him a quick hug. Tarrae resolved to say a prayer in thanks for the timeliness of the interruption. His father rolled his eyes behind her back and told her to let him get on with it. With only the minor remaining difficulty of prying off a few children who had clamped on and buried their faces in the furs on his leg, Tarrae made a quick escape.
Finally free of passengers, he exited through the thick inner door. He closed it firmly behind him, already feeling some of the cold from outside, and then opened the outer door. The air crackled in his lungs, and he quickly shut the outer door behind him. No use in letting any heat escape.
Below, above, and to the sides, the city Soamana stretched out. Soamana was carved into the side of a canyon; the poorer districts lay at the very top, most exposed to the extremes of weather. Here, in the middle and below, were the merchant and craftsman districts. To the west, sheltered in the lee created by the carving of the canyon wall lay the noble families and the Imperial Grotto. To the east, sheltered by more canyon wall, lay the halls of the various powerful guilds, and his destination, the Adventurer’s Guild.
Tarrae hurried to the east, ignoring the few other people out on terrace streets. Homes and storefronts entrances, flush with the stone, were closed this early. Some of the stores would be opening soon, though none would be using the space in front of their stores till well after the start of Thaw. Some might wait until Grow.
The canyon wall opposite the city was covered in shadows and offered little to see. The Maw, a burning ring in the heavens, was just visible, but the sun remained unseen beyond the canyon walls. And, far beneath, the sound of murmuring water was evidence the river Rawimi continued its eternal flow.
Tarrae eventually reached the guildhall and entered, pausing only briefly to leave his outer furs with the clerk. Thus assured he wouldn’t overheat too badly, he made his way to the guildmaster’s office. The clerk in the outer office quickly let him through and he found himself facing the guildmaster, as well as four strangers, three of them sitting down in chairs, and the other standing impatiently off to the side.
Tarrae opened his mouth to apologize for arriving late, but Guildmaster Manja cut him off with a raised hand and gestured to a seat.
“Good, you’re here.” She said. “That means we can begin. First, introductions,” she pointed her hand at the standing man.
“Imperial Representative, Ndrivo,” The man, hints of gold and silver showing beneath his robes, opened his mouth to speak, but Manja has already moved on.
“Adar Seeker, Anaath” The Adar nodded, obviously a desert Adaran with his brown yellow bark-skin and hair like long green laid back thorns.
“And the next three are members of this guild.
“Soara,” a tall thin man, “Norana,” A woman, her brown hair cut short, “and Tarrae.”
Each nodded to the others.
“Good, now that’s over, I can tell you why you are here. Adar Anaath came to me with news of a dungeon an hour ago. Usually we have a team for this, but they are on a dungeon dive and will not have heard the call, and even if we got a message to them, it would take too long for them to return. You four are going to replace them.
Anaath will lead you to the entrance and minimize what danger he can, as well as represent the Adar. Unfortunately, as a new dungeon, exactly what you will face is unclear, so you three will need to sort out your roles once you arrive.
This brings us to one other matter, Ndrivo?”
“Hrm, yes. Anaath has indicated that this new dungeon is located in a politically inconvenient location, the Lances. The entire mountain range is meant to be neutral territory between us and the Froans to the north.”
He scowled. “If it is far to the southern edge of the Lances, we can probably get away with claiming the dungeon completely, since it will be inaccessible to them. However, if it is farther in, we will likely both have a claim. That is my imperative for you. If you are able to reach the dungeon, you will make it clear that Tsary is staking a claim. However,” and the man looked like he had tasted something bitter, “be polite to any team from Froa, we do not wish an incident.”
Manja nodded and spoke, “I wish we had more time, but as it is we need to hurry. The route you will be taking is to the east. You will go along the canyon road to Wither Salt Flats. Mounts will be provided for you after you leave the canyon road. From there you will go north to the Lances. You may need to climb deep into the mountains. Go gather what you need and meet back here as soon as possible. The guild will provide you with magical communication and survival gear, as well as the best map we can find. Dismissed!”