Among the Sklar-Quah
Having been told that they must participate in the Trial of the Totems at dawn tomorrow, the Crimson Blades spend the afternoon resting in the Flameford Camp, where the Sklar-Quah still give them suspicious looks. Irabeth quickly retreats into the party’s guest yurt which overlooks the cliff-face on the western side of the camp, and she is soon joined by most of the Blades.
Slim, meanwhile, drifts over to the stables on the eastern end of the Flameford where the remaining warriors who had not left with Krojun or Akram are shooting the breeze and practicing horse tricks. Though they initially ignore the rogue, he is slowly able to draw them out by speaking Shoanti, cracking some self-deprecatory jokes, and finally breaking out a bottle of Chelaxian wine to share. Once the warriors are cheerily into their cups, Slim manages to tease out some information about the Trial.
“Holding up a stone pillar for two days is far too easy a test for membership into the Sklar-Quah,” one of the warriors says. “But even so, I think you will fail, greenlander. You might be too stringy for Cindermaw to keep down, but the Trial of the Totems requires true strength.”
Slim also fishes for more information about Krojun, and learns that the brash warrior is held in high esteem.
“When ride upon Korvosa,” one of the burnriders says, “Krojun will lead us over the walls. There are none like him in the Seven Quahs.”
While Slim buddies up to the young warriors, Arlynn chooses to approach the tribal elders, who have gathered around the bonfire at the center of the Flameford camp. Within the bonfire itself is the Sun Shaman, who has taken the form of a fire elemental. The clan elders mix gossip with talk of the coming war with Korvosa. Arlynn waits for the appropriate moment to step forward and offer her own appeal. She cautions the elders about the harm that war will bring to all and urges them to take a different road.
“It takes greater courage to learn to forgive and make friends of your enemies,” the paladin says. “If you follow the path of peace, I pledge to you that we will tell the people of Korvosa—it will change many minds. What may be accomplished through war can be won through diplomacy with no blood spilled.”
A face forms in the fire and the Sun Shaman speaks: “You promise much, greenlander, and there is wisdom in your counsel. But others have come before you promising the same but delivering the Shoanti only empty words. Time will have to tell whether you and your companions are different.”
“We will prove our worth,” Arlynn promises. Behind her, there is a loud shriek and one of the Sklar-Quah yurts keels over into a mess of furs and wooden poles.
Egan had attempted to entertain the clan’s children with a magic trick that turned into the amazing collapsible yurt stunt. The flame-haired gnome’s energetic apologies ring out across the camp as Arlynn tromps back to the guest yurt.
Rise of the Totems
The following morning, a little while before dawn, the party is awoken by the Sun Shaman and three thundercallers. The shaman leads them on a 20 minute walk out into the Cinderlands, where they arrive at the base of a mesa called Bolt Rock, a sacred site for the Sklar-Quah because of its propensity to attract lightning strikes during thunderstorms. The shaman explains the particulars of the Trial of the Totems to them.
They must each select a 10-foot totem of fired clay from a storage pod at the base of the mesa. Before sunlight reaches the lower tier of the mesa, they must haul their 500-pound totems up to the lower tier and heave them into an upright position in one of the shallow depressions in the rock. The totems must be held upright until the following down, when they once again have to move them to the upper tier, where the totems must be held upright until the third dawn. At that time, those whose totems are intact and upright will be welcomed into the Sklar-Quah.
The Sun Shaman says that many eyes will be cast towards Bolt Rock, which is visible from the Flameford, and the totems will glow faintly at night so that even in the dark they can be seen. The adventurers are permitted to use magic or whatever means are at their disposal to aid them in holding up the totems, so long as they do not alter the nature of the totems or of Bolt Rock. Having laid out the rules, the Sun Shaman turns into a crow and then flies back to the camp.
Through a mix of magic, wildshape, and brute strength, the Crimson Blades haul their totems up to the first level of the Bolt Rock and prop them up. Egan takes the form of an ankylosaurus to drag and prop up his totem. Slim uses the party’s rope to rig up an elaborate support system to help hold up the pillars. Irabeth is the only one who opts out of the safety net, insisting on facing the challenge head on.
The sunlight finally falls on the lower level of the Bolt Rock. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the temperature begins to rise. Ashla and Arlynn dose themselves with endure elements, which Dino-Egan also casts on Slim and Zandu. As the temperatures continue to rise, Kyra and Remmy succumb to heatstroke, which Irabeth hastily cures.
As the day progresses, Zandu proves unable to keep bracing his totem and it snaps free of the safety ropes. Despite their best efforts to save it, the clay pillar crashes to the ground. Thankfully, it suffers no major damage and is able to be quickly propped back up. The sorcerer manages to keep it upright as day turns to night.
The Second Dawn
After a night spent propping up the heavy totems, by morning the entire party is fatigued. The adventurers call on Irabeth to treat them with her goddess’ favor, but the half-orc seems caught in a fugue. She finally snaps out of it and goes about her work, confessing that she seemed to have a strange vision in which she imagined she was an aurochs. The Crimson Blades realize that the trial may involve a vision quest. Ashla nonetheless casts endure elements on herself in order to escape the heat of the coming day.
The party dismantles their rope network and transfers their totems to the upper tier of the Bolt Rock mesa. Dino-Egan calls on the aid of a mighty treant to help them move and support their pillars.
A few hours after dawn, the adventurers are visited by Krojun, who seems to have calmed down some since his outburst. He sizes up the party and then grudgingly notes that they are lucky to have one another as nalharest—brothers and sisters. After the barbarian is gone, Zandu speculates that he must be lonely and looking for friends.
How Now Brown Cow
As the day drags on the sun blares down mercilessly on the Crimson Blades, despite the shade cast by the treant. They pass around their replenishing goblet, but even so it grows uncomfortably hot.
Arlynn’s gleaming plate mail turns into an oven around her, while Slim’s mithral is soon slick with sweat. They each notice shimmering waves of heat rising from the stone around them, clouding the edges of their vision. At the bottom of each of their totems, the spy a pool of clear water, but as they bend down to scoop it up, they glimpse an aurochs staring back at them.
Arlynn is confused, and shakes off the vision as a sign of heatstroke. Slim, meanwhile, realizes that he is looking at his own reflection. He is the aurochs and he comes to realize that he is not merely a herd beast for cinder wolves to pray upon but rather the proud and steadfast guardian of the Cinderlands.
A little while later in the day, Remmy also has a brief moment of believing she is a majestic aurochs, before recovering.
Jumping the Land Shark
As the sun begins to sink towards the western horizon, the Crimson Blades hear a strange scrabbling sound drawing nearer and nearer from the south. Ashla sends Majenko to investigate and the pseudodragon quickly reports back that there are strange furrows in the dirt approaching in a pattern that reminds him of jigsaw sharks. The party hastily prepares for the arrival of the land sharks, with Arlynn calling on Iomedae’s blessing to strengthen their hearts and confuse their enemies while Egan summons a gorilla to help prop up the totems and Ashla casts barkskin on herself. Zandu flies up to the top of his totem and sharpens his senses with true strike.
The first of the bulettes leap up onto the lower level of the Bolt Rock mesa and move to attack the party on the upper level. One lands beside Ashla and lashes out at her. Slim vaults behind it to stab it with his rapier. As more of the creatures advance on the upper tier of Bolt Rock, Zandu lets fly with a lightning bolt. The bolt arcs down to strike one of the land sharks, but then its electrical energy ripples across the surface of the mesa, barely missing Ashla, Slim, and Irabeth but striking four other bulettes. The startled adventurers decide lightning magic might not be the best choice for Bolt Rock—even as thunder clouds begin to gather overhead.
Dino-Egan calls up a wall of flame to barricade the land sharks onto the lower tier, but the monsters aren’t frightened of the flames and advance through the scorching barrier. One bulette leaps up beside Slim and claws at him. Another jumps onto the upper tier of the mesa and with a sweep of its claws knocks Irabeth down to the lower level, where she lands with a loud clank just shy of the wall of flame. The land shark then kills the gorilla holding up Irabeth’s totem. Remmy rushes in to try to stabilize it but it’s too much for her. Kyra abandons her own totem and races over to try to knock the tottering pillar onto the land shark, but the creature side-steps it and the clay totem lands with a thud but doesn’t break. Ashla sends Badger to rescue Kyra’s teetering pillar and the man-sized raccoon manages to brace it upright. The half-elf ranger then strikes down one of the monsters with a handy swing of her longsword.
The storm arrives with a furious crack of thunder as a lighting bolt ignites the treant’s canopy. Slim finds himself attack by two bulettes. Arlynn, stuck propping up her totem, tries to protect him with a few well-place arrows from her longbow, but it is not enough. As one of the land sharks lunges in to take a bite out of the rogue, he stares right into its eyes: lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. But as the teeth rend and tear, the black eyes roll over white and Slim collapses unconscious and dying on the ground.
Irabeth heaves herself to her feet and tromps over to help, plate mail clattering with each step. As the half-orc rounds on the remaining bulette from behind, Arlynn channels the fierce power of her goddess to restore Slim from the brink of death. The rogue manages to tumble out of the way of the bulette’s snapping jaws while Irabeth finishes the work of Arlynn’s arrows.
The party heals up and weathers the storm, which lashes Bolt Rock with several more lightning bolts before finally moving on. Ashla claims two of the massive bulette claws and some of their teeth as trophies.
One Big Happy Family
A short while later, several Sklar-Quah arrive to butcher the bulette carcasses, as the meat is apparently a Shoanti delicacy. The Crimson Blades continue their test of endurance, holding up the pillars throughout the night.
With the third dawn, the Trial of the Totems ends. The Sun Shaman leads the entire tribe from Flameford up to Bolt Rock in the pre-dawn hours, and as the sun rises, the eight intact and standing totems are greeted with a rousing cheer.
Before the jubilation gets too out of hand, the Sun Shaman holds high his hands for silence, then personally welcomes each of the Blades into the Sklar-Quah. The old shaman suggests that they return to their yurt in Flameford to rest and recover from their ordeal while the Sklar-Quah prepare a celebratory feast. As they begin their descent down the mesa, the Sun Shaman speaks to them quietly.
“I know your task is urgent, so as soon as we reach the Flameford I will take my leave. In order to provide with the knowledge you seek, I must first commune with my ancestors at the Kallow Mounds. As tradition demands, I will travel with Chief Ready-Klar and four of our thundercallers. We shall walk on the winds, so that we may return in but a day. In the meantime, Krojun will be acting chief of the Sklar-Quah.”
The mighty warrior bows his head at this honor.
The Sun Shaman urges the party to take this time to rest, relax, and get acquainted with their new brothers and sisters among the Shoanti.