The Lady of the Forest has been freed from her trance; the elves of the small village are grateful and wish the party well as they return to the main road. Still on the trail of Tane Kalani Hohepa, the party makes their way to Liu-he, the elven town in the Everwood, far from the prying eyes of the Thrannish Empire.
After several weeks of travel, the party arrives at Keene, a small outpost at a ford of the Westriver. On the other side of the river, the Everwood itself starts, technically outside of the domain of Vertland. Keene’s houses are set on tall pilings, to mitigate the yearly floods that often swamp the surrounding countryside, and the town is a thriving community on both sides of the Westriver. As the party approaches, however, the unwelcome smell of smoke hangs in the air, and a giant dark cloud swirls over the houses on the far bank.
As they get closer, they can make out strange sparks of light flashing in the maelstrom, and eerie winged figures darting over the treetops. Most of the town is abandoned; only a very few of the bravest milita are left. Two rows of archers hold the remnants of Keene’s bridge; a few militia men with hunting knives stand nearby to fend off an assault. A bearded man, haggard from too many nights with too little sleep greets the party hopefully. “You’d be from Latecastle then? Please, please say you’re from Latecastle…” Alestair gently informs the man that they’re not from Latecastle, but they can possibly help the situation. The man, Lazarus Keeneson, describes the situation.
“Few days ago, there was this group of Sirs from Unkard that showed up. Followers of the Raven Queen, I guess. They were here investigating reports of undead in the area. We hadn’t had any trouble like that around these parts, but we have plenty of visitors coming into town this time of year, so they weren’t too special or anything. Few days passed and this cloud thing appeared on the far bank, and all sorts of zombie monsters started coming out. You can imagine the Sirs were not too happy about that, so they crossed the bridge to try and handle what was going on back there. None of them came back out of the cloud, except for the one that blew up the bridge and all the creatures on it. And put up whatever barrier is holding those things back…” As he speaks, he gestures to the flying creatures above the bridge. One of them swoops towards the rows of archers, but a strange force seems to be holding it back. It flaps its wings, straining at the barrier, then is catapulted back into the cloud, as if attached to a rubber band.
Alestair asks if another crossing is available, Lazarus only knows of the one several days’ down the river at Bensonmanse. His reluctance to assist, however, is drowned out by Talara and Baern, who recognize that the barrier holding back the undead is failing, and the town will soon be overrun. Talara asks if they had seen a man in a white mask recently, Lazarus remembers there was one very odd character just before the cloud appeared, but he hadn’t spoken with the man. Lazarus retrieves Leena, a half-elven woman who runs a supplies store and has stayed in town with her militia husband.
Leena says that there was indeed a man matching the description the party provided, he wore a long dark cloak and his face was hidden with a mask. She said she saw him come out of the Colomendy and come into her store, where he bought some supplies and left. Talara is shocked – this is the first time the masked man has ever been recorded as saying something. The others decide it is a good time to check out the colomendy, and see if there have been any messages either sent by the Raven Queen scouts or this mysterious masked man.
The door to the colomendy is locked but flimsy and Lazarus wanders away, pointed not looking at them breaking and entering. This colomendy is deserted, and very different than the others the group has visited. While the others have been spotless, this dovecote is dirty, with days of pigeon droppings splattered about the interior and several feed sacks ripped open and partially dumped along the floor. There are a few pigeon still roosting in their holes, though the majority of the nests seem to be abandoned. Talara quickly finds the store ledger and checks the incoming and outgoing messages sent in the few days before the cloud arrived. She sees that the Raven Queen scouts sent a message back to Unkard the day they arrived, and one message was delivered to someone who signed for it “Brother Fritz”.
More mystified than ever, the group heads back to Leena to confirm the exact description of the man. “No, not quite,” Leena responds. “This man had features to his mask, a nose, eye holes, a mouth… The mask you describe, smooth like a plate with no features, what kind of creature would wear such a mask?” The group has only a few minutes to ponder this potentially new threat when a cry goes up from the bridge. “They’re coming through! Help! Auggh!” and three guards are seized by the flying creatures and thrown from the bridge. Talara, Alestair and Baern dash to the bridge and see several creatures shambling over the broken planks.
As the undead bird-creatures swoop and whirl overhead, the remaining archers pepper them with arrows, while the party focuses their attention on the wight and wraith that have crossed the bridge and menace the town. Baern takes several solid hits from the wight and find his feet have lost sensation; he can’t seem to move them from where he was standing. Talara, meanwhile, tries to say out of everyone’s reach as she blinks around the battlefield, calling forth fire and eldrich energy. The archers arrows fly true, and soon the creatures are overwhelmed and fall.
As they catch their breath, figures around the bridge fade slowly into view. Someone is clapping slowly, and a familiar voice filters through “Ah, werry good, my friends, werry good. It is indeed good to see a familiar face in these parts, no?” As the figures come into focus, the party is surprised to see none other than the Buyer standing on the near shore with a small group of eladrin. Two in robes are standing by the pillars of the wrecked bridge, channeling magic into the air – magic that spreads out into a shield surrounding the town. The Buyer holds up his hands peacefully “I mean you no harm, my old friends. The past is the past and no one here holds any ill will against anyone else. The truth is, we are fighting a common enemy, and we both can use all the help we can muster, no?” Baern eyes the Buyer warily “We’re listening.”
“Good, good. The darkness that menaces this place is from that stupid elf. That Tane Kalani Hohepa. The idiot made a crack, and, well, you can see what the result was,” he gestures to the swirling cloud of darkness behind him. “Your scouts could not close the crack, could never close it, because it has to be worked on from both sides, and they could not. I will get to the point. You are capable warriors, you proved this on our past meetings, no? I have too few men to secure both sides of this crack. You will help me close this rift.”
“Why should we help you?” asked Alestair, still suspicious. “Firstly,” the Buyer held up one long finger, “this crack threatens both our worlds, yes? And secondly, if you help me, I know where that stupid elf is hiding. I will take you to him. Drop you off right on his doorstep, if you wish.” “Fine,” Talara agrees. “We’ll help you.” “Excellent,” the Buyer smiles, showing off every glinting white tooth. “There are two sides to this rift, the topside and the underside. I only have enough men to secure one side of the crack while my mages work. Would you prefer to stay up top by yourselves or come to the underside to work with me?” The party has a quick huddled conference, then decides to come down to the underside of the rift to keep an eye on the Buyer. “As you wish,” he says, and waves his hands.
The party is disoriented for a moment as gravity seems to reverse and they fall up into the sky. The familiar sensation persists for a moment, then dissipates to reveal a massive expanse of darkness, with the evil swirling cloud. The Buyer speaks to the mage for a moment, then she begins channeling energy into the heart of the rift. “Be careful not to cross that rune circle,” he says, pointing it out. “That would be, most unquestioningly, bad. We must protect her for several minutes while she channels the spell. Do not let the creatures interrupt her.”
The party stands around the mage, warily on the lookout for any threats. They soon see one clambering up out of the rift, more undead figures lurching their way towards them. Familiar with the wight’s tactics, the party quickly dispatches the reanimated horrors. “That was exciting, no?” the Buyer smiles at them. “Be on your guard. There is still more to come…” Sure enough, the ground shakes beneath their feet and a massive, bony claw reaches up out of the rift. Straining, a large, skeleton of a dragon pulls itself up from out of the ground, bellowing at the party.
The group launches everything they have at the monster, Talara singeing its bones with fire while Baern calls down the blessings of the goddess to smite the creature. They herd it away from the mage, trying to keep her safe from the creature’s swiping blows. The creature falls and the party, triumphant, watches as the mage finishes her incantation. The rift glows silver and gold for a moment, then winks out in a brilliant point of light. The cloud clears and the darkness recedes to reveal a strange landscape. A brilliant light shines on the oddly colored grasses and trees. The party seems to be standing in the ruins of some sort of temple. The paving stones are perfectly smooth and flat, and joined together making some sort of road leading off into the distance.
“What is this place?” Talara asks. “This, my friends, is our home. And your shortcut. Which is good, because that mad elf has filled the woods from here to there with his monsters. Would have made your going very difficult, no? Come, we have much ground to cover.” And the Buyer sets off down the path.