The end of August finds the party back in the ruins of Forge, still faithfully guarded by Sergeant Arran and his men. They’ve set up a semi-permanent base on the hill overlooking the ruins and the group finds the Sergeant and his some of his men in a group around a campfire. Sgt. Arran is pleased to see the group has returned and reports on their observations.
“You’ll actually find the town mostly empty now. We’ve done our best to control the masses, but every morning there were fewer and fewer of them down there, milling about. We think they’re slipping past the pickets at night. We tried what you said, setting up signal fires and such to keep them in place and it worked for a while. Not so much anymore. We’ve seen a couple stealing branches from the bonfires and such – digging around in the dirt even. It’s unsettling. There’s one in particular, a really large male we call Scar-Eye. He seems to be setting up a kingdom or something down there. He’s cowed several of the others into respecting him, and he has his pick of the women and whatever they’re eating down there. We know he takes shelter in the smelting tower down in the center of the city.” Talara and Baern are especially troubled by this report and surmise that the Forged seem capable of learning, though they are not regaining any of their lost humanity.
Ilu suggests that Scar-Eye and his compatriots be put down, or captured and sent to Kaleo Kai Ikaika. The rest of the party agrees and they head down to the basement of the smelting tower. The party heads down the dank stairs under the smelting tower. Spiders are beginning to nest in the corners, and the floor has several small piles of rat bones scattered about. Several Forged turn their heads at the approach and watch the group warily. Baern glows with a divine light, hoping to scare the Forged into letting the party pass deeper into the basement, and the Forged slowly withdraw. Baern corners them against a wall, but when they run out of room to retreat, they spring in a coordinated attack. Toriel shifts to wolf form and darts into the fray, but he is quickly surrounded and subdued by his opponents. Gudrun challenges them all with the cry of a raven, causing several to snarl in pain when they attack her comrades. Baern calls forth the power of Sehanine in the form of lightning, but his strikes go wild in the close confines of the underground storeroom. Ilu and Kasake circle around for better position, but the Forged manage to outflank Ilu and she too falls in combat. Kasake howls for her fallen mistress and deftly weaves between enemies to guard Ilu’s body. Talara uses all her arcane knowledge, teleporting among the enemies and throwing handfuls of fire at them. Gudrun puts her healing skills into play, and manages to keep Toriel and Ilu from dying, but the Forged are now wary of her divine marks and circle around her. Luckily, her armor deflects the worst of the blows and Baern and Talara manage to subdue the enemies.
Toriel and Ilu sit up groggily after the combat and take a few moments to recover their breath. The door at the far end opens up into a hallway with several smaller rooms leading off of it. To the left, several smaller storerooms have been forced open by the Forged and each ones holds an assortment of junk. The party notices that the stuff to the back is neatly stacked and piled, but the objects closer to the door are scattered about. Additionally, each room only holds one type of junk – they’ve sorted it into piles of wood, metal, cloth scraps, food, and the like.
At the door to the right of the hallway, the party can hear Scar-Eye and several others moving about. They throw open the door and see several Forged – two smaller males, Scar-Eye, and two females. Scar-Eye is a giant of a man, covered in burns and twisted scars including his eponymous scar – a livid, half-healed gash over his left eye. The females, too, are curious: naked except for whorling patterns of glowing blue covering their bodies. Scar-Eye howls in rage and picks up a length of pig iron, advancing menacingly to the party. Wiser from their encounter in the previous room, the party unleashes their might on Scar-Eye and his compatriots. In a flurry of movement, Baern strikes at the group, critically wounding both of the females. The smaller Forged advance on the party, but can’t seem to find an advantageous position. Gudrun squares off with Scar-Eye, calling on the power of the Raven Queen to aid and guide her strikes. It only takes the party a few moments to finish off the Forged in this room, securing their samples for Kaleo Kai. Bending down to examine the strange blue substance on the females, Talara identifies it as residuum. She attempts to collect a vial by scraping the residuum off the skin, but most of it is lost and scattered in the dust of the floor.
The party brings their captured specimens back to Harbormouth, where Eion promises to have them delivered to Kaleo Kai Ikaika. Harbormouth is becoming crowded with refugees, mostly from Gull’s Rest, and they bring news from all across the barony. Word spreads from mouth to mouth about how Gull’s Rest fought off the Raiders, but how Ember was overrun. They tell tales of how a monster from the sea rose up and burned most of Ember to ashes, of how the Raiders rode the white capped waves and captured a large portion of the village’s inhabitants – and of how Ember was offered the same deadly decision as Forge. And of how the town council of Ember paid the ransom. How the screams and cries of the villagers of Ember drifted over the waves and the shores were stained with the blood of the murdered townsfolk. Gudrun and Baern do their best to offer succor to the refugees.
While gathering information in the inn, a young boy delivers a sealed capsule to both Baern and Gudrun. The message, delivered via Harold’s Colomendy Service, is a summons to the armed services of Bryce the Game, who is now calling himself the Thrannish Emperor. The letter threatens that they must report for service in two months’ time or face possible imprisonment. This news is highly disturbing for the dwarves. Baern remembers that this order contravenes the original treaty between the Thrannish Empire under Garrick the Forger and the dwarves – the treaty said that the Emperor could not force the dwarves to serve in the army and Bryce seems to have forgotten that fact. Gudrun worries about her clan, as the Mica have never looked fondly on Bryce’s rule, and wonders how this draft notice will affect them.
As Gudrun mills around, she spots another group of adventurers in the corner – all wearing the symbol of the Raven Queen. She goes over to meet her fellow servants of the Raven Queen: Colbey Strongarm, a paladin; Brandt the Keen, human mage; Finnian Sharpeye, human paladin; Kiana Nilana Hokulani, elven cleric; and Helene Heike, tiefling cleric. Gudrun asks what had brought the cadre out here, and Colby reveals that they’ve been on the trail of an elven madman who’s been involved in necromancy all over Verdtland. The Priestess of the Raven Queen in Unkard has been getting disturbing reports since the catastrophe out of Vertland. Rumor has it that a heavily tattooed elf has been wandering the land. Wherever he goes, death follows, then stories of the dead rising in his wake. The few witnesses that were left in any condition to speak said the elf spoke of three things: his lost son and wife, the injustice and stupidity of the Hohepa family and a faceless assassin pursuing him. The priestess sent this cadre out to investigate the elf, which eventually turned up Konani Chandler, Shane, and Tane Kalani Hohepa. The cadre was returning to the priestess to convey this information back, including Tane Kalani’s letter to Konani. (The letter is mostly rambling, but mentions he has a place set up in the Everwood, one hundred miles west of Keene, a small farming village in Vertland.) Colby mentions its an awfully large area to search, considering Tane Kalani wasn’t very specific in his directions. Colby strongly suggests that the party come to Unkard to report to the committee there, so they can make an informed decision. Gudrun and the others agree, as there are many questions yet unanswered.
The next morning, the party sets out for Unkard – a week long journey made safer by their new traveling companions. On the third day, the piercing cry of a hawk shatters the otherwise-quiet fall afternoon. The hawk rides the thermals down, slowly circling before dropping a small bundle on Toriel’s head, then landing on the ground a few feet in front of you. The bundle is made of the following: the wrapping of the bundle is a strong linen cloth, dyed purple. Inside the bundle is a length of bone-white wood, about as long as a finger. The wood is planed smooth on one side, the other has a rough scratching of a boat. Tied to the strip of wood with a strip of vine is a bit of fur and a broken arrow. Toriel remembers that several weeks ago he left a message for his master in a clearing, hoping that the elder druid would know of any disturbances in the Everwood. Now, it seems, his master had replied with one of his usual ‘object lessons’ that Toriel had so dreaded as a student.
After some study, Toriel and the others work out the following: the cloth is sailcloth dyed purple with the juice of pokeberries, a plant that only grows on the seacoast. The wood is from a white pine, a tree that usually only grows in northern elevations or mountains, usually by the snowline. The vine is known as Woodbine and only grows near fast-moving water, while the fur is gnoll fur. The broken arrow gives Toriel and Ilu a bit of trouble, but they know it isn’t a gnoll arrow (who tip their arrows with iron points) and that it signifies a person or tribe in trouble or subjugated.
All of them agree that this information is pointing them to a particular place, but Talara is the one who pulls out the map and pinpoints the location. She believes the elder druid is directing them to a point in the Valley Kingdoms. The whole group is ecstatic to be able to place where the Raider attacks are originating. Baern, however, is a bit miffed by the druid’s message of random junk and thinks a letter would have been much clearer. He suggests that Toriel send a reply of a random assortment of tattered clothes, mud scraped from the path and whatever sticks and rocks they can find, just to see what the druid makes of it. Toriel defers, and tells the hawk that he’ll have a reply message when they arrive at Unkard.
Upon their arrival, they find the city of Unkard greatly changed. Refugees from all over the Three Kingdoms have congregated on Unkard, filling its streets with a throng of people. Makeshift tent cities have sprung up all around the city, reminding one of a fearful child grasping its mother’s skirts. Even a casual glance at the city shows its changes – guards now walk the streets, clad in new livery. One pair of guards approaches the party, delivering a summons to the Council. When they arrive at the Council, however, the party is told that their report will have to wait until the morning, as there was urgent and unexpected business that needed to be attended to.
With this reprieve, the party seeks out the monastery of the Prayerful Brotherhood – the quiet order that was recommended to them in their investigation of the masks. The monastery has always been a low-profile institution. As they think back, the party remembers seeing the Brothers around Unkard, but they’ve always kept to themselves. They tend the Tomb of Emperors in the center of Unkard, but are particularly unobtrusive. Brother Geralt greets them at the wide doors and listens to their inquiries. A skinny man, verging on malnourished, with sunken dark eyes and his hair shaved in a tonsure, he listens to their story and concludes with this: “Devoted Father William taught that the soul is in a state of eternal journey. The gods invest a soul in a newborn when it is born, and the soul dwells in that vessel for the duration of life. After death, the soul is cast out of the body into the Astral Sea, where two things can happen. It can either wander the Sea restlessly, unraveling over time and falling into the nothingness, or it can be plucked from the Sea and taken to the High Realms of the gods. We here fervently intercede for the soul of the First Emperor, that he will be plucked from the drifting Sea and be taken to eternal rest with the gods. If these villagers of Forge are, as you say, soulless, then only direct divine influence can retrieve their soul.”
He continues “Now if…” but is broken off by shouts and general commotion from the main chapel. He opens the door and is struck in the chest by an arrow. Falling back and coughing blood, he gasps “The Face of god… Don’t let them… in the eastern nave…” and expires. In the main hallway, several Eladrin archers nock their arrows and line up the next shot. The party quickly dispatches them, and rushes off to the eastern nave.