Startled by the sudden appearance of the Raiders, the group rushes to town. The gates are unbarred and battle is heard from the docks area. Sprinting down the streets, the party finds the Town Guard fighting valiantly against the invaders. Leading the battle is Duke Donough – a giant of a man unafraid to enter the fray. Warhammer in hand, he strides boldly into battle, directing his troops to shore up undefended locations. As he sends the last of his guards away, an axe comes hurtling out of the enemy ranks, grievously wounding the Duke.
Several Raiders advance on the wounded commander, eager to fell the leader. The group rushes to the Duke’s defense, slaughtering the 6 warriors that were foolish enough to lead the advance before the men even realized the Duke had aid. Baern channels the power of Sehanine and sends a Raider flying off the edge of the dock into the harbor. Toriel shifts to a wolf and goes toe to toe with a second Raider, while Ilu and Kasake shift around to flank him. Talara and Gudrun are peppered with arrows from two archers in the south, and break off to deal with them. Menacing them all, a Raider Deathmage stands proudly on the docks and summons a swarm of flies directly on the Duke and Talara, harassing them and obscuring their vision. Baern attempts to knock her off the dock too, but she maintains her precarious footing. The Duke swings at the beserker, getting in several mighty blows before the beserker returns the favor, dropping the Duke with a savage swing. The archers continue harrying Gudrun and Talara, sneakily shifting around just out of reach. Toriel and Kasake’s teeth and claws make short work of one beserker, but the second one managed to climb back onto the docks, howling with fury after his dunk in the ocean. The Deathmage throws curses left and right, but Ilu manages to duck out of the way. Baern makes it to the Duke’s side, stemming the worst of the bloodflow and letting the Duke rejoin the fray. The Deathmage finds herself in a bad position: Toriel and the Duke flanking on one side, Kasake and Ilu flanking the other. She lashes out in desperation with her staff, calling upon her dark magics to eat the flesh of those who oppose her. Gudrun backs one of the archers against a building, and brings her down with a few well-placed blows. The remaining beserker swings his axe, but is blinded by his bloodlust and falls to Ilu’s spear. Surrounded as she is, the Deathmage doesn’t last long, and utters one final curse at Baern as he calls the gods’ power on her.
The battle for Harbormouth is won, only a single boatload of Raiders escaping. Tired cheers go up from the docks and the Duke yells menacingly at them. His injuries are grave, however, and he is lead back to the keep by his wife. “I have more I wish to speak to you about, though. Go find Captain McMurdag and bring her back to the keep.” The party agrees, but McMurdag has been killed in battle, leaving Sergeant Arran in charge of the Guard. The party brings him back to the keep instead, where they find Duke Donough being tended by his wife. The Duke assures them that the Glendower family will be well-taken care of, and agrees to have Tiernan the Fat thrown in the dungeon for any length of time necessary. That being resolved, the party informs the Duke of the existence of the Eladrin that had kidnapped the Glendowers, as well as the passage from the sea caves into the Holly House. The Duke agrees to put a guard on the house, to make sure no Raiders get in that way, but is surprised to hear about the Eladrin. He mentions that guards had reported people breaking the blockade, but that they had disappeared whenever the guard gave chase.
A strange figure interrupts the conversation at this point – a tiny figure (no more than 4 feet tall) with milk-white skin and wearing a black-and-white patterned jester’s outfit enters the room walking on his hands. His face is painted with red, black, and white diamonds and he’s wearing a jester’s hood adorned with ribbons and bells. “Isn’t it good you listened to me, then?” the vaguely elfin man says. Duke Donough introduces the figure as ‘his Jape’ and tells the party that Jape is occasionally an Oracle. “And I have another one for you…” the Jape says, turning somersaults. He dramatically recites:
“With ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh,
Like stars in heaven, and joyously it showed;
Some lying fast at anchor in the road,
Some veering up and down, one knew not why.
A goodly vessel did I then espy
Come like a giant from a haven broad;
And lustily along the bay she strode,
Her tackling rich, and of apparel high.
The ship was nought to me, nor I to her,
Yet I pursued her with a lover’s look;
This ship to all the rest did I prefer:
When will she turn, and whither? She will brook
No tarrying; where she comes the winds must stir:
On went she, and due north her journey took.”
The Duke shrugs an apology, “He’s a bit… cloudy… at times. Not wrong, per se.” Toriel has a good insight into the prophecy, and suggests that the Raiders will strike somewhere north of Harbormouth, and that this attack will somehow be different. The Duke wants to lead the Guards north right away, but Lady Finella refuses to let him leave. Exasperated, Duke Donough empowers the party to lead the expedition in his stead, investing them with his authority in the form of his signet ring. Just then, a page runs in, out of breath. Forge’s signal fire had been spotted, indicating imminent Raider attack. “It’s two hours to Forge, going full bore. If they’ve only just spotted the sails, you might be in time…” Without further delay, the group mounts up and speeds to Forge.
On their way, Toriel’s keen eyes spots a troubling sight. Out at sea, he spots the ships of the Raiders, forty or fifty of their longboats. Dwarfing them all is a gigantic white ship with royal purple sails. The design of the boat is unlike a Raider ship – its more in line with the largest of the large human-built transport vessels. Toriel guesses it’s nearly a thousand feet long, and everyone agrees that it doesn’t bode well.
As they draw nearer Forge, murmurs whisper their way through the Harbormouth Guards. There’s too much smoke in the air… the Raiders have probably all ready hit the town. As it turns out, “hit the town” is an understatement. The outer wall is unrecognizable as a wall – the logs have been burned to their bases, not even leaving a skeleton. The houses are charred wrecks, some thatch roofs still smoldering, but not a single structure standing. The great iron-pits for which the town of Forge was named are cooling now, but the molds that hold the cooling metal have disconcerting lumps in what should be their smooth surfaces. Sgt Arran goes pale at the devastation of Forge and breaks ranks “Eithne! Keir! Ranald!” he calls, spurring his horse through the town, shouting desperately. “His sister’s family lives… lived… here,” a nearby guardsman says in a low voice. Toriel and Ilu eye the burned structures suspiciously. No normal fire could burn the town so completely in such a short time. This was caused by some magical or supernatural means. Baern, on the other hand, searches the ground, seeing the tracks of a multitude of people headed towards the beach and something a bit more sinister: a drag mark in the ground, as if a giant log had been dragged around. “Or,” Talara points out cautiously, “a giant snake.”
“Sirs! Down here!” a voice calls from the shore. Unlike Harbormouth, which had a deep harbor, the shore of Forge gently slopes down to the water, providing a long, shallow beach and the fine-grained sand that makes the molds of Forge so effective. Ugly spikes dot the beach now, each one bearing a gristly load – the body of a villager, impaled through the center with the spike protruding from their mouth. Twenty corpses stud the beach, and Sgt. Arran kneels at the foot of one, weeping.
“Sails! Sails in view!” A panicked cry goes out and sure enough, a massive boat, larger than any of the longboats seen in Harbormouth, sails into view. It’s sporting the blue and white striped sails of a Raider vessel, but the hull of the ship is a glistening white. A smaller object detaches from the boat’s side and makes its way towards shore. You can see two figures in the boat, one has attached a scrap of white cloth to a stick and is waving it back and forth, the other has a green, leafy branch. As the dinghy approaches, a voice calls out over the waters “Heer ourt vurds, shoormen, oor noon mans oov Foorge coomen bark!” Two large Raiders jump out of the boat and splash in the surf. The one holding the white flag approaches, his bearskin cloak dragging in the water. The other places his branch in the dinghy and works on pulling the boat out of the waves.
The man in the bear sark speaks to the assembly. “I speaken too de shoormen: Score oof score we haven in de ships. You pay golden-pricen, we rip them limb and limb and tossen to the Great Sea for your mans and chilern to pick up. You no pay golden-pricen, we sets them on shore and lets them go. Golden-pricen is 5 foor head.”
He looks over his shoulder to the other Raider, who nods. The bear-sark Raider turns to leave, the other one pushes the boat back into the surf. As they leave, you glimpse movement out of the corner of your eye. One of the figures on the pike stirs and a groan hisses from his destroyed throat. “Killed…usssssss…” one hisses, and falls off the pike. “Killed… ussssss…” another one groans, and falls. One by one the mangled corpses pull themselves up and lumber toward the leaving Raiders. The two men blanch in fear and start scrambling into the boat to get away from the horrors, jabbering in their own language. Through the crash of the waves, the party hears the Elven name Tane Kalani Hohepa brought up. Several of the corpses are swept into the ocean waves and don’t come back up. A few manage to grab on the boat, where their hands are swiftly removed by the chopping axes of the terrified Raiders. The rest turn their soulless, vacant eyes on the party. As the party whirls to face him, they see the familiar, unwelcome visage of The Ghost pointing his spear across the waters at the Raiders.
The group closes ranks to beat back the undead that are now swarming around them. The Ghost, too, descends from his perch on the rubble and beelines to Toriel. Baern strikes fiercely at the undead, blasting them first with divine power, then calling lightning down to sear their flesh. Talara takes advantage of their grouping, first teleporting into the midst of the fray, then teleporting away, sending whorls of energy among the dead villagers. The Ghost menaces Toriel, palm open and miming being given something, then retaliating with a thrust of his spear when Toriel refuses. Gudrun attempts to draw The Ghost’s attention, but finds her warhammer merely passes through his form. Toriel’s claws, however, seem to find purchase on The Ghost as he rends the apparition. The next moment, however, The Ghost looks over his shoulder, as if being startled, and fades away into nothingness. That threat removed, the group finishes up the zombies on the beach, then pause to consider the mysterious ransom request.
They aren’t mistaken – the Raiders will kill the villagers if the ransom is paid; they will release them if it isn’t paid. Baern is disturbed at the knowing smirk on the envoys’ faces, and what it may possibly mean. Gudrun is worried that they’ll send the villagers back as undead, but Toriel remembers that the Raiders were as shocked at the appearance of the zombies as anyone else, and doubts that they knew that was going to happen. The question remains: do they pay the ransom or not? They consult with Sgt. Arran: he says that his sister and nephew weren’t on the beach, and he can’t consign them to death so easily. Overall, the party agrees and waits for sundown.
Baern and Gudrun bury the bodies of the villagers, consecrating the ground in hopes the horrors won’t return. Up until now, the undead had just been a story used to scare little children; now, they can’t deny the reality of the walking dead. Night falls quickly, and soon twenty ships are seen plying the dark waters. A lantern is tied to each boat, and they seem to be drifting towards the shore. Peering into the darkness, Toriel calls out with relief that they don’t appear to be zombies. Minor fights and scuffles break out in the boat though, as they bump onto the shore and disgorge their cargo. The villagers hop out of the boats and wade to shore – but something seems terribly wrong. They don’t respond to questions and their eyes seem blank. Sgt. Arran grabs the shoulders of his sister and calls her name, shaking her, but her eyes go to the glinting buckle of his belt as she tries to take it. Talara wraps her cloak around a shivering young boy who was tugging at it, and he hangs onto it greedily… and is immediately set upon by several other villagers who fight, trying to rip it off of him.
Toriel closes his eyes and reaches out with his senses – the spirits and very life force that flows through every living thing seems to have been stripped from these people. For all intents and purposes, these people seem soulless. Talara orders the Harbormouth Guard to fall back, which they do gratefully, several with minor injuries from trying to fend off the greedy horde. As they see the Guards draw back, they begin to swarm forward and riot, but Baern blocks the path and slams his staff into the ground, unleashing several bolts of lightning near the villagers. They cower back in fear and allow the Guard to withdraw.
The party dejectedly makes their way out of town. They send several guards north to other villages with a warning to stay away from Forge. Four other men, including Sgt. Arran, are posted around Forge to try and keep the villagers in one place so they don’t spread about the countryside and harm others. Baern instructs the men to try and scare the villagers to keep them put, but to defend themselves if necessary. Sgt. Arran snaps off a smart salute and swears to do his duty, regardless of the price.