When last we saw the party, they had fled the strange world of the Floating Isles, fearful that the researchers of the Great Library might dissect them. Retreating to the Caves Between Worlds, they decided to see if the way back to Glorantha had opened.
It hadn't quite, but they found that they could push their way through the barrier; it was like walking through thick jello. They did not notice that there were many, many other similar pathways throughout the great cavern.
They emerged to see a world relatively unchanged...except for the sound of strange music coming through the trees in the valley below. Picking their way downslope, they found a strange sort of carnival taking place in a clearing. Fire-breathers and jugglers walked about, "monsters" on stilts fought "knights" wielding swords, the smell of enticing foods scented the air. In the center of the carnival was a large puppet theater. There was no one in the audience - apart from the performers, the whole carnival seemed strangely empty - so they sat and watched as the show began.
Puppets appeared. One was large and troll-like, with tusks and a huge weapon. Another was apparently a human female wizard, and a third was some sort of female elf - a "meat elf", as one of the puppets called it. "Hey, is that us?" Gormuz called out.
A figure who had discretely taken a seat behind the party leaned forward and quietly said "Someone would like very much to speak to you."
He took them on a short walk to the site of the ruins of Apple Lane, which were much transformed. The Tin Inn (which they had destroyed) was rebuilt, but now looked more like a manor than an inn. The village was cleaned up and some buildings had been rebuilt, but it was a village no longer; instead it looked more like an estate. Their escort, who introduced himself as Arpad, took them to a well-appointed office and explained that they were about to meet a High Commissioner of the Lunar Empire, Lord Gar-El; he did not wish to stand on ceremony, so they could simply address him as "Sir".
An old man entered the room. He was dressed in a red uniform, and had a longish beard which was also dyed red. Taking a seat, he invited the party to sit as well.
His proposition was simple. There was a woman named Amedea and her son, Sed, who had apparently been captured three years ago by forces of the Empire in a battle against the Orlanthi to the west; he had tried to find them, but found himself blocked by unknown forces within the Empire bureaucracy. The party could help him by finding the two and bringing them to him - or, at least, the boy if the woman could not be rescued. She had been born into the Lunar aristocracy, but had fallen in love with an Orlanthi runelord and run off with him; she and her son were captured in the same battle as her husband.
The party had questions. Where was Zero, the sage who had been helping them? His whereabouts were currently unknown, the old man dryly explained; the Empire had conquered this area, and most high-level Orlanthi and members of associated cults such as Lhankor Mhy had fled.
How much time had passed here since the party had last left this world? Quite some time, the old man admitted. Years.
What reward would they receive if they succeeded? First, the old man had a copy of the complete notes of Zero on their case, including considerable additional information which he had unearthed after they'd left. Second, money and some magic items would certainly be available. Thirdly, he had additional information of his own which he had developed from his own sources. However, there was one additional service he wanted from them if they successfully retrieved the boy. It would be minor compared to the retrieval itself.
Was the woman his daughter? "No" he replied, and left it at that.
After some thought, the party agreed. Gar-El told them that Arpad would accompany them and take care of their needs. They would all be given credentials as high Lunar officials, full Agents of the Empire, but they should be discreet in using those credentials. They were valid, but he had seen indications that there were powerful Lunar influences covering up something involved with the woman and her son, and if there was an official inquiry from higher up, he would not necessarily be able to protect them - or himself. On further questioning he mentioned a Lord Henshar, a young noble who had recently skyrocketed in wealth and influence, as the most likely source of difficulty.
Arpad took them in hand and made arrangements. A wagon was procured; the dragonewt, who had been asleep for some time was placed in it. A large sum of money was given to each member of the party for expenses. The insignia and uniform of an Agent of the Lunar Empire was supplied for each member of the party - this with startling speed, since each was perfectly fitted.
Arpad explained that he would accompany them, but that he could not take the lead because unlike them and Gar-El, he could be tracked by magic. He had already accompanied the High Commissioner in an earlier attempt to track down the missing pair, but their attempts had been balked; they had been spotted and then tracked. Since Gar-El was also impervious to magical detection, Arpad admitted that the magical detection and tracking had probably been used against himself.
Their destination, at least for the start of the investigation, was in the town where Arpad and the Commissioner had found themselves stymied: a place called Wind's End, a town which had once been an Orlanthi bastion but which had been under the control of the Empire for three years. It lay two weeks travel to the west.
Copyright 2012 by Peter Maranci. Revised: December 07, 2012. v.1.0