Xulree Arkenett and Zaknithra Auvryarn arrive in the kingdom of Cambria with two names. The names may lead them to the Tree, or just another dead end.
Stopping by the Squabbling Duck to settle in and begin the search for their queries, they encounter Arrow. They are interrupted by a drunkard who tells them they should go visit Armon the Arch Magister if they want to find out more about the Tree. On their way out, they find a man, Cameron, boasting to a small crowd of his having been to the Tree. He proudly displays his mark—a wooden sword in a colorless aura of divinity—and offers to take people to the Tree if they will help him accomplish a task for him that he cannot do alone. Selena, who has grown weary of Cameron’s pursuit, has tasked him to bring her a batch of the wildflower that has been attracting the strange creatures that people have begun talking about. Zaknithra’s intuition reveals Cameron to be a liar when pressed about his ‘new magical prowess’; Cameron is unable to keep his story straight about his magical power being ‘internal’, and granting him ‘extra strength’. After exposing him as a fraud, Brieck Stormaxe steps forward and offers to join the party in their search. Brieck convinces Cameron to give him another lead if he will keep his secret. Cameron tells him to find Elise.
Elise is the daughter of Baron Korzan, a shrewd trader who can be your best friend or your worst enemy. After meeting with her briefly at the front door to the estate the party, at Elise’s whispered request, climb into her bedroom window. It is there that she reveals the horrendous abuse her father inflicted upon her: deep bruises and long gashes along her back and shoulders. She tells her story.
“I eloped with my lover John, who then betrayed me to kidnappers. I never did know who my other captors were, or where they went. One day they were attacked—by what? I couldn’t say—and after escaping and running for over a day, I was near exhaustion when I found the Tree.” Upon beginning to speak of the matter, it was as if something seized upon her and silenced her. After moments of silence, she regained her composure. “Then, I traveled home. Alone. When my father found me, he…well, let’s just say that few of these marks came from my captors. There is more I can tell you about the Tree, but you must do something for me first: kill my father. He has no son and intends to marry me off to an appropriate suitor that can take over his empire. I am perfectly capable of doing so. I am just as cunning, if not more so, than he is. For years, I have watched him. I have learned. But, in the end it matters not because I am a woman whose only worth lies in her beauty. Kill him so I may make a life for myself.”
To further prove the validity of her story, she points out her eyes: shades of blue, green and brown, with flecks of a metallic—gold? Copper?—color. The party agrees. Elise informs them that her father is currently negotiating a deal, and that if the deal goes well he will most likely celebrate the way he always does: a night at The Maidenhead, the finest brothel in the city.
With some time before the deal goes through, the party sidetracks to pursue another lead: Durth. Nobody seems to have taken “Durp’s” claims of having been to the Tree very seriously because of how weak he is. He tries to be a monk, to achieve self-perfection, but it’s almost pitiful how far he falls short of the mark. The party finds him attempting to meditate just outside the city. Xulree gets on his good side and Durth agrees to show them his power. By focusing very intently, he is able to channel a strange fire magic—strange to Xulree, who is somewhat versed in the arcane fire—into first a ball, then a beam. The ball explodes in Durth’s hand when he sneezes and loses his concentration; the beam misfires and evaporates a squirrel. Durth also shows them a mark on his right hip: a wooden fist in a red aura of divinity. He inquires if they bothered to ask Elise about her mark; the party did not. Durth points out the coloration of his eyes: shades of red, orange and yellow with flecks of something metallic—gold? Bronze?—and when he begins to explain the correlation between the colors and his magic, Durth is as if seized upon and silenced.
Upon further inquiry of how he found the Tree, Durth’s offered a somewhat cryptic explanation:
“I failed to protect somebody once. I went looking for the Tree because I had to find it, because I could NOT let it happen again. It wasn’t a matter of finding some physical location. The path to the Tree is never the same for everyone. I think it’s because I wanted it badly enough that the Tree ALLOWED me to find it. And now, I have this power, and I’m still incompetent. I have knowledge that I can’t share and power that I can’t use. It’s MADDENING! But at the same time, I feel as if things won’t always be this way. I can become stronger. I HAVE to become stronger. If I don’t, then…” At this, he is once again seized upon and silenced. “I’m sorry, I must end this conversation. That is the second time that I have come too close. I cannot risk speaking on the matter anymore.” With that, Xulree offered Durth some pointers in how to control the magic, and the party went on their way to deal with baron Korzan.
Korzan had just finished his deal with a company named Weston. Evidently it went well, for as the party observed, both men were radiating sheer jubilation. Korzan invited his new business partner to accompany him to The Maidenhead for a celebration, who was more than happy for any excuse to visit that paradise of delights.
The party follows and enters The Maidenhead just after Korzan. They meet the woman who runs the brothel, who introduces herself as Matron. She looks very young, yet possesses an air of grace and competence that would rival a queen. The party selects a booth for the evening’s entertainment that is within sight of Korzan. They notice that he has selected two companions for the evening: one which looks remarkably like Elise and another as if she were Elise’s mother. As the evening progresses, he becomes increasingly inebriated and shameless in his treatment of them; it isn’t until Matron walks by and pauses by his table that Korzan backs off.
Unfortunately, given the size of the crowd and the presence of the guards, the party is unable to find a way to confront Korzan there. The party’s companions pick up on their interest in him and, after finding out that their intentions are unfriendly, reveal that they, and all of the women there, detest Korzan. Given his influence, they would not dare ban him from the establishment outright, or make any such overt move, but if something were to happen to him that did not involve them direcctly…One of them turns to the party and says “Gentlemen, we have had such a lovely time, but we cannot accommodate you for the night. We must show you out. You see, there will be…excuse me, has been a disturbance by some of our guests.”
The party is led to the back exit, and the area outside is the perfect spot for an ambush. The party moves into position, and within minutes an uproarious din ensues inside. Korzan is tossed out the back door, sputtering furiously about ‘false allegations’. As he and his guards pick themselves up, the party attacks! Korzan puts up a surprisingly good fight, showing an impressive martial prowess despite his being clearly drunk. Nevertheless, he and his guards surrender.
Upon learning that Elise set this in motion, he laughs bitterly. “She thinks I don’t know, does she? I’ve watched her come into her own for years now. I know damn well she’s almost as shrewd as I am, but if she still thinks I’m blind then that shows how much she has to learn still. You might be interested to know that only some of those bruises were mine; those gashes she did to herself. Looked pretty convincing, though, didn’t it? And she told you she had been to the Tree? Psh…fools. You are on an errand that will end only in your death. Here: take my money and let us be on our way. And take this toe ring. It will help convince Elise that I am dead.” The party agrees to let Korzan live.