As eras passed, rulers came and went, lineages rose up and fell to give way to new lineage, it became clear to historians, scholars, archivists across the land that Jocun Garland had faced perhaps the single most adverse, and arguably tragic, crisis of his family’s time in the palace, and perhaps of any High Lord that had come before him; certainly, far more wretched an age than any High Lord has presided over since. His fall, shared by the kingdom his bloodline had built, has left a ragged and untended scar upon the history of the realm and the memories of the people, and to this day stands as a brutal reminder of the fickle nature of everything we have, hold, or create, hoping to carve a tiny piece of our identity into the record books and hold on to a fleeting form of immortality. Many of our attempts are not as disastrous as the crisis of the Stone Blight, but an unlucky few can find their legacy becomes imprinted upon the world in despicable ways.
Broadly speaking, Jocun Garland made an acceptable attempt at High Lord. Lacking the fiery bravado of his father, he accepted the crown with some not-unnoticed reluctance, and made his best attempt at a responsibility he never desired to shoulder. His lack of passion for his heritage was reflected in his behavior in office; a little blase, a little lackadaisical, a little prone to allowing his Warlock and his Queen sway his decisions, or make them for him. No bother; they were both far sharper minds than his, his Queen a keen politician and his Warlock a great scholarly presence. In any case, Jocun turned out to be far too lazy to be malevolent. There of course remains much discourse about how his palatial arrangements forged the disasters to come, and how perhaps a steadier hand may have eased the descent, but that story has been discussed time and time again in multiple texts, and is not one that concerns this record, at least for the time being. No, this record, and the grand tale that it will tell, pertains to the unlikely band of heroes - heroes here a subjective term, applied a few years after the rubble cleared and true events became known - that came together in aid of Vassidia, seeking revolution, retribution, and restoration, not only for the kingdom but for their own personal demons.
Of course, the protagonists that our grand epic weaves around were not the first party of adventurers willing to risk everything they had for the good of the kingdom. In fact, at the time of embarking upon their odyssey, the palace had no intentions of publicly acknowledging their quest whatsoever. But first: context.
The Stone Blight had been ravaging the kingdom of Vassidia for over a year before the gathering of the first chosen saviors. It had crept up slowly at first, and many people had mistaken the first victims for mysterious wonders, strange humanoid rock formations, fat and dewy rubies sprouting from the surface, ripe for chipping off to be smuggled away as treasure, or for private sale for a quick fortune. But in the few months following, as rumors swept around and communities heard of similar statues across the realm, people began studying the rock, and what they found traumatized the nation. Peering past the rough, cracked surfaces, those who once picked away at the gems began to see the faces hidden beneath the rubies, and as more time passed, fear and panic and dread set in as more and more statues appeared, and the truth behind these terrible monuments became apparent. 6 months after the initial wave, the palace officially acknowledged it and made quarantine orders; by then, the plague already had its name. By the end of the first year, there was no corner of Vassidia left unscarred by this new horror, and all research, treatment, and experimentation had done nothing to slow or contain the spread. There was no known vector or method of transmission; symptoms were identical, but chose victims randomly. You’d get a rash. You’d get blisters. You’d turn to stone. The palace closed its gates, and desperation set in.
The palace’s silence lasted three months before the rising unrest in Vasilius’ citizenship could be ignored no longer; the people’s dissatisfaction was answered in the form of a task-force of sorts: a hand-picked cabal, composed of the best scholars and knights and nobles that the throne could assemble. Together, they would act as a dedicated group of heroes, who would be well-equipped to scour the kingdom, bring some respite to the public’s unquiet minds, and search every corner of the land for a cure or treatment. Their number totaled seven: and for posterity, we will list them here:
Malcom Blythe, a formidable and well-respected soldier, whose military prowess had elevated him to Captain in the palace’s Crownguard; Cara Brume, Aborran’s own apprentice, and a respected scholar in her own right within the palace; Logan Stone-Shatter, the eldest Mountain-Brave of Mornfell, a powerful and battle-wise warrior who had left his beloved city behind in hopes of saving it; Rufus Daurian, a Commander of the Wardens, the impartial peace-keeping force that patrolled the Sychan Desert and the Eastern Tundra, a patient, level-headed man with years of experience surviving, fighting, and leading his men in extreme conditions; Count Sylquen and his Housecarl, Oramir, of the Karnels, a revered family of aristocratic merchants and artists, well-known in Vasilius for their philanthropic efforts; and Gideon Bhurke, an extremely wealthy arms merchant, who was much-talked-about in Ferros and had been poised to join the Iron Council as a chancellor.
These seven forsook their individual riches and endeavors - instead, they banded together, graciously accepting their place beside each other as Vassidia’s best hope. They were lauded as heroes, and heroes they would be, for they equipped themselves with the greatest arms and armour the kingdom could offer, and set out on a perilous journey across a crumbling and diseased kingdom in search of salvation. On the shining day of their departure from the capital, it had been sixteen long months since the first victim of the plague, and the sickness showed no signs of stopping. The noble seven were paraded from the palace through the heart of Vasilius, the people celebrating their departure with heartfelt sincerity; this group of stalwart adventurers held the first spark of hope that any citizen had felt in the better part of a year.
Two months passed from the day of the group’s first steps upon their odyssey, and there had been no word, no grand return, no hailed coming-home of saviors with cures in their arms and epic tales in their hearts. It was just more deafening silence, a world’s hope pinned on seven men and women who had yet to deliver. In secret, the palace devised another group of agents; rumors and spy-craft used artfully to spread word, while the official stance stood steadfast behind the continued efforts of the chosen heroes. They were gathered in secret under cover of darkness, huddled together in a hidden courtyard on the outskirts of the palace grounds, debriefed by agents of the royal family without being granted the audience of their predecessors.
The original seven had dropped contact a few weeks previous, having otherwise been sending couriers and birds every few days following the start of their quest. The information held by the palace as to their whereabouts was limited, and at least a month out of date; the last definitive location of the party had been a missive from Ferros, and they had indicated they were due to leave the following morning to follow a lead they had uncovered regarding the old druids of Marisma - but since that last letter they had sent no more, and the Iron Council had since locked Ferros down in complete quarantine, closing their gates to trade, and, more worryingly, ceasing all work in the mines that were so vital to their economy and the kingdom’s supply of iron and steel. This new party, made of those who had responded to rumors and word-of-mouth, making their journeys to Vasilius to seek a new mission, find a new fortune, carve their names in new glory, were simply told to find the first party and whatever they had discovered, and report back; they were given all the information the palace had, and then quietly escorted from the city the same night, their mission never acknowledged publicly, and any prying citizens silenced covertly.
Pieced together from word-of-mouth, letters and communicado, and even scraps of the personal journals of those involved, what follows now is the tale of that second party: an unlikely group of mercenaries and exiles and rejects, survivors from all levels and fringes of society from all the kingdom over, their true story detailed as accurately as possible, in hopes of creating a true record of the events of the fall of the Garland lineage from where it began: at the doorstep of the palace.