Dark forces surround Castanica, from the fiery aberrations in Fyrmount, the cruel and plotting nagas on Serpentis Isle, to the gulas who'll sell you into slavery or eat you—cooked, if you're lucky. To stave off these foes, the vanguards patrol the jungles and caldera of Ostgarath. Drusus, a veteran warrior, explains the way of things to a new recruit...
“Sit down, lad. We've a few minutes before Varinia gets back. Welcome to the 3rd Vanguards! I'll wager walking circles around Ostgarath's sweltering jungles wasn't what you pictured when they urged you to volunteer. Hah! They get everyone the same way. You either sweat your horns off here or freeze them off around Kaiator.
“Don't worry. We'll train you up proper. Varinia and I have been stationed here for two years now. She likes it because we can make it back to most of the festivals in Castanica and she can see her husband and daughter. Me? I like walking my own streets when we're on leave rather than Velika's dull alleys and lanes or Kaiator's grim...everything. Although, we went to Chebika one time—craziest holiday ever. I watched an elin archer drink an amani berserker under the table. Lost a whole pile of gold on that wager…
“A lot of castanics end up in the vanguards, so you’re in good company. Makes sense. We bore easily, hate garrison duty, and love a good fight as much as any aman. Our home's threatened on all sides, and there's no better defense than a good offense. I read that on a baraka scroll once, so it's got to be true.
“Anyway, we've always been fighters, but with the federation, it's different. We've got the resources to not only strike back when hurt, but work to prevent attacks. If it was just up to the shadow council in Castanica...
“Besides, it's not like it's dull duty. We've seen it all and survived to tell the tales. Probably why the centurion sent you to us. We patrol a different parcel each week. We walked the Jagged Coast last week, which is never dull duty. The Red Lash pirates control a great grotto and they've built themselves up a massive nest of vipers. We try to kill a few of their veterans—the better to scare off their newest recruits—whenever we're nearby.
“How? Oh, straight forward really. Varinia's an archer and I'm a warrior. I leap into the heart of things, slash and strike until everyone's right furious with me—and then Varinia sends them all back to the dream in a storm of magical bolts. We're a good pair. You're a sorcerer, but you'll probably pair up with a warrior and fight much the same. The blade draws the hate and the might does 'em right. It helps to be agile, and we are, but timing's the key. You've got to trust your partner, more than any two lovers ever will. I keep Varinia alive and she makes sure ol' Drusus here gets back to wenching and drinking.
“There's beasts all around, and, yes, most of them want to eat your face off, but it's the thinking predators you've got to fear. Orcans won't win awards for poetry, but they make fire bombs that'll cook you quick enough.
Gulas are corpulent brutes, but they hit hard and are damned tough to kill. They're straight-forward, though. They want treasures or food. Nagas, on the other hand, want the same things, or they want to sacrifice you on some altar to Dagon. Hmph. Gods are bad news, every castanic knows that, and dead gods doubly so.
“Nagas mostly stick to Serpentis Isle, though the Kazuur Syndicate hires a few clawriders to smash captured ships to kindling. You'll want to avoid those. Blasted armored crabs the size of a tavern!
Still, nagas are predictability incarnate compared to those blasted arachnens. You've seen the drones all around here, but wait until you fight an ovolith. Spit poison, spew toxic clouds, stab at you with their legs, leaping attacks, or they'll just roll over you like a baker with a wad of dough. Can't ever tell what they'll do next. When we fight ovoliths, that's on Varinia. I'm too busy not dying to worry about actually killing those wretches.
“It's important work. Lots of walking, loads of tedium, and, occasionally, terrifying minutes that never seem to end. Still, if you can prove yourself out here, your next post will be anywhere you want. A vanguard can get things done—and castanics? Hah! We get it done with style."