A hot coal crackled and arced out from the uncomfortable trio's campfire. It hissed as it lit a tiny blade of grass, a miniscule firestorm that burned out in the blink of an eye. A whispy tendril of smoke was the only evidence of the blades existence, which vanished as the smoke drifted lazily into the night sky. A delicate breeze out the south formed the campfire's smoke into a smoky serpent that snaked it's way above the plain. That smoke had made it simple for Shayden to find her targets in the low hills that lay east of Zarn. Not that she needed the fire since she had been trailing people nearly all her life. As she lay in the tall grass and observed the low tension play out between two of her kindred and the dwarf, the incense-like smoke of the fire took her mind elsewhere.....
Smoke was the first thing Shayden could remember, and according to her mother's father Vrag, it was the reason she was alive. Deep in the bowels of the Oracle's Temple where she was secretly birthed, Shayden entered the world as quiet as death. When Vrag Xamara, Lord of House Xamara, had pulled his granddaughter from his daughter's womb, she was still of life, breathless. Lord Vrag had inhaled a great breath of the ritualistic incense that filled the secret chamber where he and his daughter brought their prize into the world. He had leaned close to the tiny black elfling, cupped her chin and exhaled the thick smoke into her lungs. The smoke filled the infant's lungs and kindled the fire of life, for she coughed then faintly wailed once. She opened her black eyes for the first time and saw a dark, candle lit chamber filled with hazy smoke. Even now, as she approached adulthood, she swore that she could still see that moment clearly in her dreams.
Shayden had been spirited to the orphanage of the Temple and raised as a Ward of the Oracles, her origins kept from her. The Oracle's Temple had always taken in the abandoned and unfortunate youth of Morengar, no matter their race. A lost child was not a burden but a blessing, an opportunity for the Temple to swell it's ranks with servants and acolytes. So the young half-breed with the coal black skin and even darker eyes was not shunned as she grew, but rather nourished. She was taught to read, write, and calculate numbers. She was lectured in the tongue of dragons and educated in the shape of the world. Her young mind was saturated with the doctrine of the Oracles, that serving Fate was paramount. She was sent to the Trial of Voice at the Bardic College but was found lacking in the skill of the Eldritch Knights.
What she did excel at was exploring the vastness of the Temple without being noticed. She liked to imagine she was one with the smoke and practiced moving so deftly that not even it could betray her movements. It was not till she was caught tailing Lord Vrag that anyone had ever noticed her secret childish sneaking. Shayden had thought her life forfeit, since the Lord Xamara was known to be a harsh and unforgiving master. Much to her surprise, the Lord was quite approving and even posed a test of her skills. Aware of her now, he would try to elude her on his way to his destination. If she could follow him all the way, a great prize would be hers. If she failed, he would not fail to maintain the perception of his discipline. To emphasize the seriousness of his offer, he presented the young girl with small curved dagger. Lord Vrag led Shayden through a labyrinth of tunnels beneath the Oracle's Temple and Morengar, always just ahead of her but also in sight at the most crucial moments. He led her to the streets of the city, through back alleys and dark streets. Down to the great Seagate Wall that protected the harbor of Morengar. Through secret ways he led her through the magical walls of the Citadel City and into the surrounding rocky slopes. Deep into the night she followed the grim elflord as he navigated the high paths when finally he reached a hidden door. Through the door and far under the mountains Lord Vrag lured young Shayden till at last he came to a deep chamber. As she reached the room, Shayden witnessed her prey exit through a pale grey door, while out of a separate door stepped a figure wearing a featureless black mask. The figure produced a dagger and attacked the startled girl. She fought for her life, finally driving her blade through the artery of her ambusher's neck and drenching her in blood. In shock she stood there until the grey door silently opened, its darkness beckoning her. As if called she stepped through into a room from her past.
Within the room of her birthing, Lord Vrag and Mashara'Xhal revealed to Shayden her tale, that she was the product of rape by an unknown assailant when the Temple was infiltrated during the strange events known as the Raid of the Time Flayers. With dreams of revenge strengthened by omens of great portents, Mashara knew that she would not drink the essence of moonflower to purge her body. She would birth her child and shield it within the temple, grooming her offspring as a legacy of vengeance, for Mashara'Xhal was proud and did not suffer insult. From that point forward, Shayden's life became more serious. She was sent to the service of the Crystal Guild, who scoured the lands of the north for the special white crystal that negated the affects of the choking miasma that permeates the lands of Morengar. She learned how to track through the swamps of the Choking Fens, how to set a trap for bandits harassing the caravans that shipped the white crystals. She studied the geography and known history of her home city. Through arrangements by her family, she was assigned to Admiral Korith's flagship and sailed to the sister city of Durbin, to the eledhrel port of Holimion, around the Emerald Peninsula, and finally to the strategic human port of Scorp, at the mouth of the Bethel river.
After a lengthy assignment on security detail at the morengar outpost in Scorp, Shayden received word from her mother that she would be escorting a stealth group of archeologists to the city of Zarn. Standing atop a low plateau where the Mounds of Morning met the slopes of the Emerald Mountains at the western edge of the Plain of Betheleron, Zarn, the City of Clay has intrigued scholars and archaeologists for generations. High walls of hardened red clay, invulnerable to weapons, time, and the elements, surround the city, as strong today as the day they were made long ago by the Sorcerer Kings. Pyramids, conical towers, and soaring spires of red clay bricks filled a city large enough to hold several thousand people, yet today only a relative few rustic tribesman inhabited Zarn. The team infiltrated the xenophobic population and began excavation beneath the ruined temple. The team was hoping to find a subterranean entrance to one of the great pyramids of Zarn, which divinations said held great secrets. The locals were fanatical about keeping outsiders away from the pyramids which they consider holy ground and tolerate no tampering, construction, probing, or even close inspection of these structures by outsiders. Bantar Bedhrel, the leader of the team, chose the temple since the locals patrol the perimeter of the vast grounds hunting for rats and wild dogs to eat, but hesitate to explore the perimeter.
Shayden had protected and patrolled for the dig team, insuring they are left undisturbed. Occasionally, she and another team member scaled the east wall in the night to resupply their stores from the cache of goods they had buried at a base camp five miles in the hills. Shayden's skill at stealth kept her hidden from the denizens of Zarn while she secretly observed them. They locals had of late begun to show the effects of a new drug on the streets of Zarn. With addictions on the rise, food production was starting to suffer, leading to shortages. Though no one was starving yet, they wouldl soon. Late yesterday, Shayden received a magical sending from the Oracles. She was to make for the base camp and from there locate a trio of adventurers, two moredhrel and a dwarf. They would be waiting for her to show them the way. They then could make for the gate of Zarn and Shayden could use the guise of her group to move about openly in Zarn. The seers of the Oracles have had terrible visions of dire consequences if this specific group of heroes did not deal with the unfolding events within the ancient City of Titans..
So here Shayden sat unnoticed by her new compatriots, observing them as they played out the delicate dance of diplomacy that so often walked side by side with violence. They were all uneasy, she could feel that, just like she was, uncomfortable with vague orders from afar....