Smoke rose from the market district. Screams could be heard from below as many fled the city. A royal attendant hurried into their sovereign's quarters, a thin sheen of sweat upon their face.
“Your Majesty,” they greeted breathlessly, offering a quick bow, “how goes the evacuation?”
The towering figure of the elven queen of Thorolas, Ludmila the Third, mournfully turned from the window to face her attendant.
“The aberrations have spread far swifter than I had hoped,” she said, her voice low and remorseful, “My soldiers are doing what they can, but we need heroes. Have you found any?”
The attendant straightened their back as they recovered their breath.
“I am pleased to announce, Majesty, that I have eight of our bravest citizens awaiting your presence in the throne room. However...” They leaned forward slightly, as if sharing a secret. “I may advise using your gift for some of them. I worry not all have their nation's best interests at heart.”
Ludmila nodded once and clasped her hands together.
“I had fully intended to do so,” she informed, “I sense great turmoil within this castle, as well as what lies beyond its walls. I shall need to prepare my heroes for the challenge ahead, and warn them to not allow their personal demons to hinder their quest.”
Queen Ludmila dismissed her attendant and gracefully strode to her throne room. She held her head high, as she always did. Ludmila was widely known for being a benevolent ruler, having been chosen to lead as Queen twelve years ago by the emissaries of the Great Ones, the spirits that watched over the balance of the world and had brought the land to life. She took her position extremely seriously, but never hesitated to spare a smile or a kind word to her fellow people.
Upon entering the throne room, she saw her heroes gathered near the center, some making conversation, others pacing, and others still seeking to avoid all interaction.
“Brave heroes!” Ludmila greeted,approaching the group, “I sincerely welcome you to Morningstar, and thank you for answering my call. I trust you all have questions, and I will answer them to the best of my ability. But first, I must explain your quest and speak with each of you privately.”
Her black and golden speckled eyes swept over the group, her gift picking up unease, impatience, and curiosity.
“The balance has been disrupted in Thorolas. As you know, the Ether, the world of the Great Ones and all beings without a physical form, is tasked with maintaining the balance of our world, using monarchs like myself to act as a medium between realms. I'm afraid I have lost contact with the Ether, and this disturbing loss happened to occur around the time the aberrations began appearing.
“I have read in the castle records that such a thing has happened before, long, long before any of us walked the land. The records do not explain what caused this to happen, nor do they detail a means to prevent it. But, in the case of it happening again, our ancestors have prepared a ritual for ethereal restoration. This task, however, is not easily accomplished.
“You must travel to each of the four regions, beginning with the Summerlands to the west, then the Winterlands to the north, then the Autumnlands to the East, and finally the Springlands to the south. In each of these regions, you will find rare, magical artifacts to use in the ritual. I do not know the items by name, but our ancestors have provided clues to locate them, which I will provide copies of to each of you. Once you have collected all four items, you must swiftly return to Morningstar so we may perform the ritual and bring an end to this madness.”
Ludmila paused a moment in her speech,then turned her eyes to the Air Genasi, whose presence brought a lovely breeze to the usually stuffy throne room.
“Xsuni, I would speak with you first,” she said, “Please follow me to the antechamber.”