Cambria

Second Interlude
An honorable murderer, if you will, For naught I did in hate, but all in honor. - Shakespeare
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Adventure the Twelfth
I hate admitting that my enemies have a point - Salman Rushdie

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.

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Adventure the Eleventh
That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above, corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracles of the One Thing - Hermes Trismegistus

Having cleansed the town of Laconia from its blight, the group tries to gather information from the surviving mage of the Raven Queen to figure out where to go next. They are interrupted, however, by an elven caravan pulling up, looking to deliver good to none other than Tane Kalani Hohepa. Talara, thinking quickly, signs for the goods and has the elves unload the crates, claiming she needs to inspect them for her ‘master’. Inside, she finds several bundles of herbs common to the Everwood, a few hams smoked in the traditional elven method, and a large container of silver amulets, identical to the ones so lately used in the blighting ritual.

The party confronts the elf, revealing the corrupt nature of Tane Kalani and asking after the amulets. The caravan manager is shocked, protesting that he knew nothing of Tane Kalani’s plan and actually being quite pleased to get a contract from the prestigious Hohepa family. The merchant tells the party, apologetically, that Tane Kalani was living in the elven town of Liu-he when he ordered the amulets, but asked for them to be delivered to Laconia. The party rests for the night in Laconia, then plans to head out the next day for Liu-he, following the trail of Tane Kalani.

The next morning, the party heads off across the rolling grasslands of Vertland, headed for the borders of the Everwood. The stillness of the crisp autumn evening is suddenly broken by the howls and yips of a pack of plains wolves. Cresting a rise, the party sees two figures being menaced by several wolves. They charge down the hill, scattering the wolves and saving the elven man and his young son. The father, Tama Kaleo Anakoni, insists that the party come to his village for dinner, in thanks of saving himself and his son. He promises a warm meal and safe bed, glancing up at the sky and saying it looks like snow. The party gratefully accepts his offer and heads to the small forest retreat in the forest on the Vertland side of the Everwood.

The forest retreat is small, five or so modest houses grouped around a central clearing. Racks of drying skins are stretched out around the houses as hunters prepare their fall harvest. The elves of the village greet the strangers pleasantly as they go about their tasks. Inside Tama Kaleo’s wife prepares a meal, generously welcoming the party to their home in broken Common. The party enjoys a plain but plentiful dinner, chatting about the small pleasentries of life. About halfway through the meal, the son dashes to the window. “Snow, snow!” he cries, still young enough to be entranced by the first snowfall of the season. Tama Kaleo nods his head, “The Lady of the Forest is shaking out her featherbed”

They all settle into their evening routines, Anakoni Maleo darning clothes by the fire, Tama Kaleo re-fletching arrows and the young Iokua Tama attempting to carve a stag from a piece of pine wood. The snow falls heavily, gently blanketing the forest… and everyone feels quite sleepy. Baern is the first to notice the stealthy feeling creep over him, and manages to shake it off. Everyone seems sluggish and unresponsive; Baern notices Anakoni nearly falling into the fire. Recognizing it as an enchantment, Baern calls upon the power of the goddess to protect the dwelling, carving protective runes into the corners of the room. The family and the party instantly snap out of their trance-like state. Peering out the window, the party can see mounds where the snow is piling over the victims that were caught outside. Concerned for the safety of the villagers, Gudrun is ready to rush out the door, but Alestair stops her from leaving the confines of the protective wards. Gudrun is still not ready to give up on the villagers and refuses to leave them to the snow’s fate. Luckily, Talara remembers that they’re still carrying ‘samples’ of the amulets that Tane Kalani had intended to blight towns with. She and Baern quickly inscribe the protective runes on them, making the amulets mobile wards. Each of the party grabs one and set out to move the villagers that may have fallen asleep in danger. As they are removing the last of the villagers from the howling snow, Alestair spots a set of footprints in the snow walk over to a villager, and then two depressed patches, as if someone were kneeling. He quickly calls the attention of the party to the apparently invisible figure, which goes sprinting off into the woods. Tama Kaleo promises to see his neighbors to safety and the party goes racing off into the woods.

The magical aura carried in the snow is full of dark black tentacles snaking around in the wind. The party follows the footsteps down a path until they disappear at the edge of a small pond, frozen over in the early winter storm. Talara, not stopping to think, charges out across the ice and disappears. Alestair sighs, “Like I didn’t see that coming,” steps out onto the ice and also disappears. At this point, Gudrun is starting to be frightened – equally suspicious of ponds that appear to vaporize those that step on it and nervous about being left behind in an enchanted snowstorm. Ilu and Kasake walk out onto the ice, also vanishing. Baern gives Gudrun a word of confidence, then also leaves her in the snow. Forced with being left behind, Gudrun holds her breath and steps onto the icy surface of the pond.

The world seems to spin upside down and Gudrun finds herself standing once again (right-side up) on a cavern floor. The cavern is fairly large and the air itself seems to be luminous; there are no light sources visible in the cave. At one end of the roughly circular room is a shallow pool of water. At the other, a tall waterfall is pouring from a ledge down a chasm that seems to go infinitely far down. Near the waterfall is an ancient pile of crumbled, rotting lumber. The first thing Gudrun notices about the room is how wrong it seems. The cave itself seems to be made of granite, yet the carving of the cave seems to be from natural water. Caves don’t work like that, at least not in any mountain Gudrun had visited. Ilu pokes around at the rotting lumber, soft and fragile enough that it falls into pieces when picked up and crumbles in his hands. He sorts through the pieces anyway, finding a few rusty nails and generally thinking that the wood was once a ladder, though too rotten now to do anything useful. Talara and Alestair are more concerned with the waterfall and the puddle. Alestair investigates the waterfall. The water is icy cold to the touch, and has a strong magical aura about it. When examining the aura, Alestair sees the water as deep blue daggers flying off the cliff and down the chasm. Meanwhile, Talara examines the water in the smaller, shallow pool. It’s warm to the touch, warmer, actually, than the cavern floor beneath it or the air around. Its magical aura glows a gentle amber, like a cup of mead. Talara catches some waterfall spray in a makeshift cup and examines it. When removed from the waterfall, the water seems to lose its magical aura. She tries dumping it into the still pool, noticing that pouring the icy water into the warm pool seems to have no affect on the overall temperature of the pool. Talara scoops some pool water up in her cup, noticing it still retains its aura. She cautiously takes a sip…

And immediately sinks through the floor. She grasps desperately at a ‘rock’ in the middle of the cavern which has somehow become a pond, catching hold. Pulling herself up onto it, the rest of the party looks over and sees Talara standing on top of the pool, her body magically transformed into water. Looking over at the waterfall, Talara notices that it has ceased flowing and now a jagged wall of stone provides a perfect ladder up into the next level of the cavern. She cautiously ‘swims’ through the floor of the cavern and teleports up to the top of the waterfall, where the current is gentle and only a mild trickle of water swells around her ankles. Noticing this, the rest of the party quaffs the magical water and makes their way up to the next level.

A shimmering wall of steam blocks their path onwards. To each side of the small chamber is a table set with several orbs. Ilu picks one up – it is an orb of some sort, slightly squishy like a balloon filled with a flour-water mixture. With it, Ilu is easily able to pass through the veil of steam. The others of the party follow suit and are encountered with a very odd room. The room is perfectly square, but covered with an inch or two of water sloshing about on the floor. Set into the floor of each room is a colored stone that seems to glow with an inner light. A hiss fills the room and two creatures of steam coalesce from the air. The party quickly springs into battle with the steam golems. Ilu leaps into action first, noticing that his crystal fills with a red light. Assuming that his glowing orb probably has something to do with the crystals on the floor, Ilu makes sure to stand firmly on the red crystal. Deciding to test Ilu’s theory, Aleistar stands on a crystal differing from his orb’s color and gets a moderate zap for his trouble. The party quickly dispenses of the golems, who each leave behind an orb, similar to what the party found on the tables outside, but covered in flames. Baern picks up the orbs – the fire doesn’t burn – and carries it to the far wall of the chamber where a wall of ice had blocked their path. He notices the two small niches for the orbs and slots them into place. The ice runs, melts, and disappears, leaving their path open.

A steep staircase leads up from the cavern, and they emerge into a strange forest clearing. The grasses lining the path shimmer with blues and pastel pinks; the trees are a mish-mash of strange, violent oranges and fuchsias. The clearing is an exact duplicate of the forest retreat they had been in a few hours ago, albeit with a strange palette shift. Standing at the far edge of the clearing is a giant woman’s figure, shaking something vigorously. Strewn about on the ground are the dead bodies of several eladrin, all with terrible burns. The party approaches the woman, who appears to be shaking a large featherbed. She is fretting terribly, worrying about how messy the place has become and insisting on her need to clean for someone’s return. As the party edges around to face her, they see her face has been replaced by a smooth porcelain mask. Talara’s heart sinks as she engages the Lady in conversation. She is obsessed with cleaning, normally talking in a frantic tone except when questioned about who is returning. Then her voice switches to a monotone, only stating that “It is his forest now. He is returning soon.” Talara seems unable to reason with her, or get her to acknowledge nearly anything the party says. Taking a chance, Talara convinces the giantess to kneel down, the better to inspect the feather mattress. The Lady does so, and Talara reaches and pulls off the mask, getting slightly shocked by electricity in the process.

That seems to snap the Lady of the Forest out of whatever trance she was in. She kneels and buries her face in her hands for a moment, then asks what happened. The party explains, as best they can, and ask her if she remembers what happened. She, unfortunately, does not. The group explains the existence of The Ghost and shows her the Mask of Sehanine. The Lady goes white and sinks to the ground. “That is my aunt’s face!” she cries out. “How did you get my aunt’s face?” The party is shocked and horrified at this revelation, and timidly shows the Lady the Mask of Melora they also have. The Lady is even more disturbed at this, claiming it to be the face of her mother. She says she hasn’t seen her mother, or any of her aunts or uncles since the day of the Catastrophe, where a flaming orb fell from the skies and through the ground into the other realm.

The Lady thanks the party for their help and tells them she will transport them back to their realm, as it is not meet for mortals to dally in her realm for too long. She thanks them and gives them a small token of her gratitude – a magical set of water armour – and whatever the eladrin had on them, as it is of no use to her. The party comments on the eladrin; she is slightly confused by their question, “They are my servants. They belong here. I suppose new ones will come.” In any case, she also mentions that she will close the portal to the Other Realm they came in by, and, in a flash, the party is again standing in the center of the forest retreat, amid the melting snow.

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Adventure the Tenth
Mystery has its own mysteries, and there are gods above gods. We have ours, they have theirs. That is what's known as infinity. - Jacques Costeau

Laconia is a 10-day trip from Unkard. You make good time through the grassy, rolling plains. Game is fat and plentiful and the weather is crisp and clear. Most nights you manage to find lodging with an obliging farmer, but the few times you need to camp on the road are no hardships. It’s clear, though, that danger still lurks in the rolling plains. You are taken by surprise a few times by a cadre of goblins, but dispatch them and their mother plant with relative ease. One leg of the journey takes you through fairly freshly burned fields, strewn with hundreds of little goblin bones. The farmer plowing the ash into the soil explains that the infestation was too much to handle and he couldn’t risk harvesting the field as it was. “The field needed to be fertilized anyhow,” he remarks callously, snapping the horse’s reigns across its back. And every night, of course, the wind brings the howls of the great Plains Wolves. Kasake sniffs the air and occasionally joins in the chorus, but the massive creatures keep out of sight.

It’s only a few more hours to Laconia when your travels are interrupted by the sound of heavy galloping hooves. A few moments later, a horse and rider come out of the tall cornfield just a few feet in front of you. The rider jerks the horse’s head around roughly, pointing it in your direction. Seeing you, she hauls back on the careening creature, making it nearly sit down. “Oh!” she exclaims, startled. A young girl, no older than 15, is sitting astride a large draft horse. Her clothes are plain, worn but neatly patched, and a long knife dangles from her leather belt. You’d say she was human if it weren’t for her eyes – solid, pupil-less orbs of brilliant sapphire blue. “I’m sorry!” she calls, letting the horse find purchase again. “I’m…wait you!” she turns her head towards Gudrun. “Mistress of the Raven Queen… please… my brother, he fell off the roof yesterday and injured his head terribly. Grandmama sent me for the healer, but she’s in Alleria and we won’t be back before nightfall. Please, can you help?”

Gudrun nods and the party sets off following the girl. “Thank you thank you thank you! It’s not far, but we have to hurry…” The girl wheels the horse around yet again and sets off down a small lane between the fields of corn. The draft horse cuts plate sized divots out of the grassy turf as she urges the massive horse along at top speed. 30 minutes of hard riding later, the fields end and you see a small sod house and a rather larger clapboard barn sitting peacefully in the midst of the fields. The girl jumps off the draft horse calling “Grandmama! I’ve found someone to help!” The girl opens the door and ushers you into the dark dwelling.

The thick blocks of sod certainly insulate the house, but there’s very little light. One small lamp sits on a roughly hewn chair, casting a feeble light. An old woman stands next to the table, which has been converted into the patient’s makeshift bed. A young man lies senselessly on the table, sweating profusely and groaning. The woman sponges the youth’s forehead with a damp rag, and looks up as the door bangs open. “Back so soon Clarisse?” “Yes, Grandmama, I’ve brought help for Lazare.” The girl looks up at you, “Please, do what you can…” Baern and Aleistar examine and heal the young man, who eventually sits up groggily. Clarisse throws her arms around the dwarf’s neck, thanking him with all the youthful exuberance of a child. Grandmama is similarly relieved and extends their hospitality for the night in a thick accent.

The party agrees to stay the night, rather than push on and reach Laconia at nightfall. During dinner, Talara tactfully asks about Clarisse and Lazare’s heritage – Clarisse says her grandmother claims to be half-eladrin, but Clarisse thinks its more likely that there’s some tiefling of elven blood in their line.

After a restful night, the party continues on to Laconia. The town is eerily quiet – you hear the prairie winds whistling through the grasses, not the expected clatter of a farming town in the midst of harvest. Luck only worsens when you find the body of a paladin of the Raven Queen sprawled out on the middle of the path. Baern kneels down to examine the body, and it appears the man died of dehydration, though his waterskin is full. Aleistar also looks at the body, and finds it clutching a scrip of paper torn from a book. The front has part of a diagram and formulae on it; the back has the phrase “flsk. pure water”, with the pure underlined twice. Cautiously, the party heads into town, skeptical of what they may find.

In the first house Baern peers into, he sees two bodies – one lying on the floor near a broken cup, the other on the bed. As he opens the door, a wave of miasma floods over him; a stench so thick it’s nearly palpable. The woman lying on the bed is rotting, liquidizing. Great globs of flesh drip off her body. The man, on the other hand, is still alive, though running a high fever and delirious. As Baern tends to the man, Aleistar scans the room for any trace magical effects. He doesn’t like what he finds: the whole house is saturated with necromantic energy, most of it centered on the rotting body on the bed. Aleistar raises the alarm, pulls the man out of the house and swiftly shuts the door.

Meanwhile, Toriel and Ilu, disturbed by the paladin’s note, head towards the town well. They are distracted, however, by a low grumbling and bellowing from a barn to the south. Approaching the sun-bleached barn, they see three very angry bulls inside crowding around a fallen body. As the druid watches, one of the bulls lowers its head and rips a strip of flesh from the body, swallowing it with relish. Using the rafters of the barn wisely, the group vanquish the killer bulls and retrieve the paladin’s body. Gudrun finds yet another piece of paper with the cryptic phrase ‘lavender’ on it.

Continuing on, the group investigates the well. Located at the town’s center, the well seems on Aleistar’s first inspection, to be perfectly normal. Baern and Toriel, however, don’t even need to get close to the water to realize its putridness. Aleistar closes his eyes and senses magic, locating another pulsing, writhing mass of necrotic evil. After a few attempts, the group manages to fish the object out, finding a silver amulet – a triangle set with a single black stone.

Poking around some more, the party comes across a house that has been ransacked. Possessions are strewn all over the ground and everything is pulled several feet away from all the walls. A thorough search of the room yields no leads.

The next building on the docket seems to be a rich merchant’s house. Here, Talara finds another survivor. A balding mage, his wrist tattooed with a circle of raven’s feathers, lies slumped over a desk. Talara gathers the pages he was working on and manages to reconstruct his work – the group from Unkard arrived to find the village beginning to fall ill. The mage quickly realized the extent of the situation and formulated a remedy, but lacked a few key ingredients. It appears that he sent the paladins off to find the missing reagents. The final page of the ritual also appears to be missing. In a flash of inspiration, Talara realizes that the doodles on the back of the papers the paladins carried are the last sigil and the mysterious phrases are the missing reagents. Everyone scrambles to find the final paladin and lift the curse from the village. Ilu checks a final house, eventually punching through an oilpaper window, and peers inside. The final paladin lies stricken on the floor. Ilu quickly boosts Kasake up and through the window, where the intelligent wolf unlatches the door. The paladin holds the final scrap of paper with ‘valerian and yarrow’ written on it.

Now comes the scramble to find the missing reagents. The flask of pure water is simple enough – Gudrun had filled her waterskin at the home of Clarisse and her family. Ilu remembered that one of the buildings in town was a general store with a counter of herbs behind it, and quickly locates the yarrow, but only a few useless twigs remain where the valerian should be. Toriel, meanwhile, scours the gardens for lavender. His searching reveals a garden plot behind a house, but the lavender has already been cut for the winter. Talara has another brainwave – “The last house! The neat one! It had flowers hanging on the bedpost!” Gudrun opens the door and steps into a room full of the sweet smell of lavender. Ilu racks his brain and remembers that valerian is a fever reducer – and the villagers were all suffering from dehydration and fevers. He races to the inn which was serving as the village sickroom and finds the missing store of valerian.

With all the reagents gathered, all that remains is to find the place of casting. Their attention is drawn to a root cellar behind the house that was ransacked. They poke and prod in the basement, but aren’t having any luck. As they go to leave, a small voice whispers to Baern “Secret… here it is,” and Baern triggers the secret passage. The short stairway leads to a workshop that is clearly the casting point of the horrible necromantic ritual. Swirls of dark energy form a vortex around a pedestal in the center. Talara, Baern and Toriel join their knowledge of the arcane, the divine and the primal to cast the ritual described by the Raven Queen mage. The ritual is ultimately a success, though the strenuous casting takes its toll on the three partners.

The party emerges triumphantly from the hidden basement passageway, making sure to seal and collapse the passage behind them. They check in on the afflicted people, who seem to be waking from their comas, though they are still unsteady. The Raven Queen mage staggers down from the big house, “My ritual worked! I knew it, thank the gods…” The mage meets the remaining paladin in the inn, as they unsteadily sit, still taxed after succumbing to the plague. One of the villagers, a half-elven woman, seems to be doing markedly better than the rest of the villagers and is walking up and down the rows, tending to her neighbors.

The mage and paladin begin to tell the party of what they encountered in the village when the door to the inn flies open. The mage stand up to investigate, but is blasted backwards by a bolt of lightning. He hits the chimney and crumples to the floor, lifeless. The companions peek out the door and see a familiar, if unwelcome, figure – the cloaked, faceless ghost.

The battle is pitched and fierce, with the Ghost calling down lightning from the heavens repeatedly. Though he swung his spear with great skill, the combined forces of the companions from Unkard eventually bested the faceless Ghost. Lightning swirled from the clouded sky, striking all around him before a final stroke of lightning hits him. When the flash clears, all that is left is a charred circle on the ground.

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Adventure the Ninth
Because there is no beginning and there is no end It's down the rabbit hole, and back again Nothing really dies and nothing ever changes And we'll all fall back to who we've always been - Jessy Liz

Stopping only a moment to tend their wounds, the party charges forward into the courtyard where they are met by several Eladrin and their fearsome shadow hounds. Bravely the party charges into the fray, unfazed by the shadowwalkers that slip in and out of sight. While pinpointing their location is difficult, the party manages to shatter their magical amulets, preventing their invisibility. The hounds are quickly dispatched and the shadow witch’s dark magics are unable to protect her.

Finally they reach the eastern nave, where 11 pedestals line the walls. Standing over the only occupied pedestal is an old, familiar face – the Buyer. He chants something in an unknown language, then chortles with glee and snatches up the mask that was displayed. Clapping it to his face, he draws a long, curved scimitar and charges the party. As the party charges into the room to face him, they are quite surprised to encounter several guards stationed just inside the door, who bring their swords to bear on the first members. The party recovers quickly enough though, and without much difficulty, takes out the Buyer. Again on his death, he is enveloped in a bright flash of light and disappears, leaving only his mask behind him.

As the commotion dies down, several monks enter the room, their bows drawn shakily. “P-p-put it back!” one commands. “That mask is a holy relic!” With some soothing words, Baern manages to calm the monks. Brother Bernard shakes his head and decides that they must speak to Devoted Father William. As they go up the stairs, Baern examines the mask he holds.

Brother Bernard leads the party back through the monastery and up a flight of stairs to a large, airy chamber. A man, frail and withered beyond imagining lies upon the bed, attended by another monk. The man nods and makes a shooing motion with his hand, and the monks retreat, leaving the Devoted Father alone with the party. The man’s skin is translucent, showing the pale blue tracery of his veins beneath his skin. When he speaks, his voice wavers and tremors up and down. “You have saved and returned one of the Faces of god to its place, and for this the Brotherhood owes you its gratitude. But I must ask of you: speak of this to no one, for the full knowledge of what you saw here today would cause a panic greater than the Catastrophe.” The party looks at the man lying on the bed and recognizes it as THE William the Bald – the personal spiritual adviser to Garrick the Forger and the founder of Unkard. He doesn’t look too bad for a 120+-year-old.

Unfortunately, the Devoted Father doesn’t know too much about the masks either, simply that they are a fragment of immense divine power. Their arrival in this world is fairly new; the Brotherhood acquired this mask shortly after the Catastrophe. Slightly reluctantly, he gives the keeping of the second mask into the party’s hands, as the Brotherhood has proved incapable of defending it. But with that, he becomes too tired to speak more on the matter, asking the party to bring back any other masks they find so he may have more pieces of the puzzle to work with.

Back in the city, a guard stops the party as it is entering. “You all are wanted in the council chamber.” he says gruffly.

The party makes their way to the chamber and the page leaves them standing at the door. “If you’ll wait just a moment,” he says in a tremulous voice. The reason for waiting is clear – even through the closed door you can hear a heated argument.
”…And the Guard isn’t enough!” a female voice calls out. “When the city was smaller, yes, we could do without, but the sheer influx of refugees has driven various crimes up by nearly 200%”
“I must agree with Nia” another female voice joins in. “Your… charity… isn’t going to be enough Arhdal. We need to take a stronger hold over the people that look to the city for help. And the first way is to get control of these slums that are springing up. Let us put the people to good work.”
“Good work! Huh! You’d make them slaves!” a male voice calls out, and there’s the sound of breaking glass.
“Dalibor! Enough! This matter has already been decided by majority vote and it’s high time we moved on to the next item on our agenda. Cuall, show them in please…” the first female concludes.
A terrified looking page opens the door and Nia gracefully motions to the council. “Natalya Grettisdottir, the floor is yours for the discussion of the Vertland crisis.” Nia sits down and looks attentively at the dwarf. In the corner, Kirk is hastily cleaning up what looks like a broken ink bottle.
Natalya addresses the party: “In this time of crisis, Unkard has been called upon to look out for not only the well-being of those in our borders, but the entirety of the Thrannish Empire. A scant hour ago, we received an urgent message from one of the teams we sent to investigate the rumors of the dead rising in Vertland. As you have proved your worth, we again will employ your talents to supplement the strength of our city. Go to Laconia and assist the team we sent there.”

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Adventure the Eighth
To myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me - Isaac Newton

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.

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Interlude
We cannot learn the cipher That's writ upon our cell; Stars help us by a mystery Which we could never spell. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The group makes their way to Forge to capture the specimens requested by Kaleo Kai Ikaika. As they travel, they attempt to puzzle out the code in the tome. Several days go by with no progress, as the members debate puzzles and ciphers they’ve seen before. Finally, Aleistar has a breakthrough and he realizes that the writer’s handwriting is quite unnatural. He determines that the spacing between the words is forced, and manages to work out the proper spacing, based on where the text is unusually crammed together or spread apart (indicating the writer was attempting to cover a natural word break). With this new information, Toriel is able to easily discover the cipher’s meaning:

DECEIVING MASK OF STRENGTH
COVERS THE VOID INLAND
TRY TO ENTER AND SEEK
THEN FAIL TO UNDERSTAND

PERPLEXITY
WILL BE IN SIGHT
WEAK FOUNDATION
THAT CANT BE RIGHT

FOR IF YOU LOOK
OUTSIDE THE CORE
SOMEHOW YOU’LL SEE
A BINDED DOOR

NO BROKEN GLASS
NO BLOOD BURSTING
JUST THE VENEER SMILE
OF WEAKNESS MASKING!


THE BLOOD OBTAINED, FROM MY OWN VEINS
NOW LET THE CONJUNCTION BEGIN!
FROM THE HEART OF ONE BROKEN
TO THE ARMS RENT ASUNDER
TO THE FAR CRY OF THE WHITE-GOLD SUN.

ALONE, I RISE UP
STRONGER THAN THE MOUNTAINS
ALONE, I CLAIM DOMINION
OVER THE SHELL OF FLESH.


BESET BY ALL SIDES! I SEE THE BLACK-FEATHERED ONES ARE ON MY TAIL NOW. I SHOULD NOT HAVE GONE TO SEE EITHER OF THEM. I TRIED IT AT FORGE, BUT IT TOOK TOO LONG TO START AND I GOT THE SOLDIERS INSTEAD OF THE RAIDERS. STUPID! OLD THREATS REAR THEIR UGLY HEADS ONCE AGAIN, MORE THAN THEY EVER IMAGINE. ONLY I CAN STOP THEM. ONLY I SEE THEM.

Toriel writes down the translated words, frowns, and says, “Well, at least they’re real words now, though more analysis will be needed to understand these ravings …”

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Adventure the Seventh
Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. - JFK

It’s been a little over a month since the Catastrophe happened, and fall is beginning to creep in in the northern parts of the country. The last of the August wildflowers are fading, and the trees of Everwood are beginning to show their radiant hues of fall. The party journeys on the quiet banks of the Lani Ma’ata river, letting it guide their path. As they proceed along the beaten grass tracks, Toriel spots some strange tracks emerging from the river and headed into the brush. Though his knowledge of the natural world is vast, he cannot quite identify what creature made the prints. After some debate, the party decides to investigate; Gudrun takes the lead and sets off into the brush.

A little way into the forest, they come across a strange creature lying wounded in the forest. The back quarters are those of a bear, but the front of the creature is feathered and has the face of an owl. It lies on its side, pitifully hooting in pain. Gudrun, moved by the creature’s plight, tends to its wounds and extracts several arrows from its side. As Baern and Gudrun see to the creature, Ilu pulls Toriel aside and examines the arrows. They come to the same conclusion: Gnolls. The arrows have a peculiar barbed tip and are fletched with snow goose feathers… but this is farther south than any of the Hyenadie Emipre’s land claims.

The party is about to continue their journey to Forge when they hear the sound of clinking metal coming from south of the river. Thinking a battle is near, they hurriedly cross the river and follow the trail of the owlbear south, eventually coming upon a dreadful scene. The clearing is spattered with the blood of corpses that are chained to a circle of rocks. One of the bodies, though, has escaped the slaughter that took place in this glade – a traveler by the name of Aleistar. They unchain the bard and he vaguely describes what happened there: an elf ambushed the group Aleistar was traveling with and sacrificed most of them to whatever dark ritual he was performing. “The elf had a bear chained to the altar in the middle, and boy was that bear angry when he woke up! Chased the elf right out of the clearing…” Gudrun, meanwhile, examines the corpses that were sacrificed – each one’s throat is slit and, as she bends over to examine the wound, she notices a silvery residue left in the wound. She manages to scrape a sample from the cut when the corpse suddenly stirs and grasps her arm.

Recoiling, Gudrun raises the alarm as the five corpses slither down from their stones and attack the party. Two lob gobs of their own rotting flesh, while the others dart around, gnawing and clawing at the living. The undead are quickly dispatched and laid to rest properly. As the group pokes around the altar, they discover several vials that once contained residuum, a rod that Aleistar said the elf was waving around and a strange, battered tome. The tome is burned and bloodstained, but a few sections are still legible. The letters are elven, but the words are unintelligible, prompting the group to think it is written in some sort of code. Their ponderings are interrupted by a soft hooting and the owlbear emerges from the woods. Its golden eyes fix on Gudrun and it nuzzles up against her.

A little overwhelmed, the group returns to Kaleo Kai’s workshop with the beast. Kaleo Kai is quite astonished at the creature, and agrees to look after it. He is more troubled to hear of the goings-on in the woods not far from his workshop. Aleistar’s description of the magic-working elf lends credence to the idea that Tane Kalani is behind the recent events. Additionally, Toriel is able to identify the substance Gudrun took from the corpse just before it animated as quicksilver. Kaleo Kai mentions that the substance is used in alchemy, particularly mixtures that deal with prolonging life.

Bidding the mage farewell once more, the group again sets out for Gull’s Rest. Three more days’ travel and the party arrives at the post walls of Gull’s Rest. The town perches on a rocky cliff thirty or forty feet above the ocean’s crashing waves. The city boasts a double wall, the outer obviously of newer construction and made of wooden posts; the inner a thick wall of masonry surrounding a fortified keep. A particularly slow-moving group of lowing cattle block the entrance to the city, keeping the party waiting for several minutes. As they enter the city, a familiar voice calls out over the crowd, “Talara! Toriel! Ilu!” and a madly waving man breaks off from the business he was conducting and pushes his way through the cows. “And Baern and Gudrun too!” Gwillam Glendower greets everyone heartily, pumping each hand in turn. “This is an unexpected pleasure! Come, my friends, they are about to close the gates. I insist you spend the evening meal with us, and the night too! Rowen and Morwenna will be so pleased to hear you made it back from Forge safely.”

Gwillam escorts the party back to his house, a stately stone structure inside the inner walls. Rowen greets each of you with a kiss and heartfelt thanks “That circumstances prevented before.” Morwenna eyes you shyly from behind her nursemaid’s skirts, clutching a porcelain-headed dolly. Gwillam treats the party to a sumptuous meal, much better than the trail rations everyone has been eating for the past few weeks, and Gwillam catches up on the adventures. He is sorry to hear of Darcassan’s death, and wishes to do something to honor his memory. The meal is nearly finished when Gwillam leans back in his chair and asks broadly “So, what brings you to Gull’s Rest?” The group explains that they are looking for Konani Kai, thinking she may have some insight into the situations that have been cropping up. Gwillam sadly informs them that he doesn’t know of anyone called that, but Rowen adds, “I don’t know of a Konani Kai, but there’s a Konani Chandler in town. Her candle shop is just outside the walls, you could check there.”

Thanking their gracious hosts, the party heads to the candle shop. Unfortunately, the shop is closed, but some judicious questioning leads Talara to Konani Chandler’s house. Out front, a rather large wagon is being hurriedly loaded by a tiefling, and staccato bursts of Elvish come from inside the house. Talara pokes her head in the door and sees another tiefling, a woman, throwing her possessions into barrels and bags. “Out!” the tiefling cries. “My shop is closed; I’m leaving; I won’t answer any more questions! Leave!” Talara manages to confirm that the tiefling woman is Konani Chandler, but the woman is furious. “I said no more questions! You’re the third group to come through asking me about… things… and I won’t stand for it! That part of my life is over and done with; we’re going to Latecastle and starting over there.” Talara opens her mouth again to try and talk some sense into the woman, but the ground shakes and an explosion tears through the air.

Everyone rushes outside to determine what happened. Scanning the seas, everyone can see the terrible tall masts of the White Raider Ship. Two figures leap into the air from its deck and wing their way towards Gull’s Rest. As the things get closer, keen eyes can see that the creatures resemble giant red serpents with huge leathery wings. A Raider leaps off each of the serpents’ backs, tosses something over the edge of the cliff and pegs it into the ground. Konani grasps Talara’s arm in alarm, “I’ll tell you anything you want – just save Shane!”

The group rushes to take action. Gudrun rushes forward to deal with the Raiders that jumped from the Sky Snakes, while Baern and Aleistar go door to door to try and get the townsfolk out. The Sky Snakes breathe another glob of fire onto the town, melting the thick stone walls around the keep. Toriel remembers that the town’s gate has been closed and he, Ilu and Shane sprint to the heavy oak gate to try and open it. Meanwhile, a large group of Raiders have scaled the rope ladder tossed down to them and are also racing towards the gate. Baern calls down the holy wrath of Sehanine on the Raiders and they are dazzled and stunned in place, giving Ilu and Toriel the time they need to reach the door first. Gudrun, meanwhile, squares off against the two Raiders guarding the ladders. They swing their flails at her, battering her armor and shield. Having delayed the one group of Raiders, Baern goes to help Gudrun ward off the attackers. The Sky Snakes, though, breathe another deadly gob of fire, this time searing several party members. Toriel, Ilu and Shane strain at the bar that holds the gate shut, but the stout timber doesn’t budge. Talara, leading Konani, throws eldrich energy at the stunned Raiders and beelines for the tower that holds the portcullis mechanism. Ilu and Toriel again strain at the bar, with little effect.

Gudrun and Baern, meanwhile, deal with a second wave of Raiders that swarmed up the rope ladders. Baern recognizes the threat and yells at Gudrun to move out of the way. Then, Baern unleashes a single word of power that severs the ropes, sending several Raiders tumbling to their deaths. The Raiders guarding the ropes, now cut off from their reinforcements, whistle to the Sky Snakes busy incinerating the town. Back at the front gate, the third time is the charm as the combined strength of Ilu, Toriel and Shane manage to finally lift the bar on the gate. Konani reaches the door of the tower first and flings it open, letting Talara rush in. She teleports to the top of the guard tower where she sees the body of a town guard slumped over the control mechanism to the portcullis. Talara kicks the body aside and triggers the mechanism, raising the gate and letting the townspeople evacuate. The Raiders, though they’ve lost their backup, fight bravely to the death. One of the rope guards manages to escape on his Sky Snake, but the other falls to Gudrun’s warhammer. The last of the villagers stream out of Gull’s Rest as their town burns.

Once safe, Konani breaks down crying. “They said that he’d be looking for me. They said he knew where I was and my son wouldn’t be safe.” She looks up, tears running from her soot-smudged face, “Twenty years ago, Tane Kalani was fairly obsessed with me. And I’ll admit, I didn’t resist. He was handsome, rich, powerful… he promised to give me all the things my family never could. Well, you can think of how the rest of the Hohepa family thought of his romance. After I got pregnant, Tane Ekewaka discreetly got rid of me. My family was paid to move to Blackwater and given enough money to live comfortably the rest of their lives. I went with them. I even had an offer of marriage from a man there that didn’t care, and wanted to raise Shane as his own. But I was young and stupid and ran away from that too. About a year later I was back in Everwood, looking for Tane Kalani. We found each other, but Tane Kalani seemed different. Oh, he was happy enough to see me, and Shane, and discreetly got us set up here in Gull’s Rest, but there was something else. He worked up at some wizard’s laboratory; said he was going to shut his family up and FORCE them to accept me and Shane. He’d come back less and less often, and seemed to become more unstable every time. It was about then that I caught him… doing things to Shane. Taking his blood, his hair. Tane Kalani had a crazed look in his eyes. I caught him trying to take Shane’s EYE! His own son! I kicked him out and told him never to come back. Eighteen years go by without me ever even hearing his name. Then, about a week after the Catastrophe, I get a message from him. I didn’t even read all of it, it was mad. He said he was holed up somewhere in Northern Everwood, far past the Elven borders and that he was working on some project. He said he’d be looking for me soon… It scared me. And then lots of people start asking me about him, I thought it was time to pick up and leave again.”

Talara and Baern try to comfort Konani, but Toriel is a bit more blunt. “Who else was asking you about Tane Kalani?” Konani sniffles, “There were two groups of them. A bunch of humans the day before yesterday. Two female and three males. They all wore heavy armor and were wearing that (she points to Gudrun’s holy symbol). The others were… spooky. They weren’t human. Wore big, long cloaks and came in after nightfall. I didn’t see their faces. They spoke with a funny accent ‘Ve are loo king for our mutual ackvaintance, Tane Kalani Hohepa. Tell us, vhat do yoo know of him?’”

Talara looks at the others. “Eladrin.”

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Adventure the Sixth
The road goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the road has gone, and I must follow if I can - JRR Tolkien

The soldiers returned to Harbormouth, weary in both body and mind. The horrors they had witnessed in Forge would not be easily forgotten. Silently the group made their way to the quarters assigned to them in the Keep, to await a counsel with the Duke in the morning.

The group meets with Duke Donough at first light to give a full reckoning of the events that took place in the village. The fate of the town weighs heavily on the Donough, but he doesn’t lay blame for what happened on the party. “You had no way of knowing what the Raiders had in store for the villagers. And I commend you on your posting of guards to watch the movements of the villagers.” The Duke growls angrily, “The Raiders pose a different kind of a threat now, one that can not be ignored. The best defense we have right now is to call up the reserves from inland and send them to the towns along the coast. My treasury won’t last forever though. Bah! If only the Queen would disengage from the south, we’d have enough men to hold the coast. Without the body of the army, though, I doubt we’ll hold out for long. If I could ask yet another favor of you?”

The Duke wants the party to escort his son, Ewan Donough, to Riversend, there to make an official request for the aid of the Redwater army. Ewan, who had been watching the proceedings, goes pale, but nervously assents to be his father’s messenger. They are accompanied by Eion, a half-elven man who claims to be Ewan’s page. The road to Riversend is a three-day journey and on the second night the party stops to rest for the night at a set of travelers’ cabins. As dusk falls, the the party divvies up watch duties before going to bed. The night’s stillness is broken by the high-pitched clicks and squeaks of several giant bats that descend on the sentries. Two of the bats blend into the pitch-darkness of the night, but four of them blaze and crackle with fire running down their wings. The alarm is raised and the whole party joins in battle with the creatures. Eion too, appears from his cabin and deftly dodges around the bats, striking with a honed dagger. Gudrun’s warhammer falls with a steady rhythm and Talara whips about the dark energies she commands. Toriel savages more than a few bats, as his predatory nature takes over. The four flaming bats fall to the ground, dissolving into piles of glittering residuum. One of the shadow bats also falls to Toriel’s teeth and claws, but the other one escapes back into the night. The party, severely wounded by their skirmish, again retires for the night.

The next day’s travel concludes with their arrival in Riversend. Ewan, speaking on behalf of the Duke of Harbormouth, is quickly given audience with Queen Katrionna. “M-m-my Lady Queen,” he stammers, “on behalf of th-the Duke of Harbormouth, I implore your aid in the Harbormouth Barony. The Raider attacks have resumed and are deploying new weapons against the v-villages.” The Queen raises a thin eyebrow at the stuttering courtier. “No aid is available to be send. I suggest your father solve his own problems in his barony, or be replaced.” Ewan glances desperately at the party, silently imploring for help. Talara is the first to step forward to try and convince the queen. Talara explains that the Raiders are using new methods of attack and are not merely satisfied with pillaging anymore. The Queen leans forward, interested by this news. Baern chimes in, detailing the methods of attack and pointing out their extra-natural origin. Following his lead, Gudrun tries to convince the Queen of the urgency of the situation, but is interrupted by an interjection from Councilor Hohepa, who reminds the Queen that the Fauchard armies have already crossed the Fulda River and are engaged in battle in the Blackwater Barony. Toriel’s ears prick up at Cn. Hohepa’s statement and he picks up on a connection – the Raiders leaving Forge shouted out a name as they left: Tane Kalani Hohepa… He brings this fact forward and whispers resound through the council room as people question the Councilor’s connection. Talara makes another impassioned plea, bringing up the history of the land and the plight of the people. Though Cn. Hohepa tries to interrupt again, he is shouted down by the rest of the council. The Queen seems to be on the verge of a decision, and Baern wraps up the proceedings with a masterful speech. Queen Katrionna orders the withdrawal of several divisions from the Blackwater Barony to reinforce the northern coast. Additionally, she forms a committee to address the issues brought up in council regarding the raiders.

A few hours later, Ewan, Eion, Cn. Kimo and Cn. Alpin meet with the party to form a plan. Eion reluctantly reveals that he’s in charge of Harbormouth’s Intelligence Corps, though Duke Donough doesn’t know the Corps exists. Through the pooling of knowledge, they decide the following: Eion will organize a rota of ships to try and track the movements of the White Ship. Hopefully they can discern some kind of pattern to eventually confront the ship itself. The Hohepa family is a wealthy and powerful elven family that lives in Southern Everwood. Tane Kalani is a cousin of Cn. Hohepa and studied with a mage, Kaleo Kai Ikaika. Kaleo Kai happens to study magical diseases and afflictions. The party hopes that Kaleo Kai can help the villagers of Forge. As another course of inquiry, Eion suggests they inquire with the Prayerful Brotherhood, an organization of monks in Unkard devoted to praying for the soul of Garrick the Forger. They, and the clergy of Unkard, probably know the most of what happens to a human’s soul.

The party decides to set out for Kaleo Kai’s laboratory, hoping the recruit the mage into helping the Forged. The mage’s tower is a good 2 week journey from Redwater, just over the Lani Ma’ata River. The small village is nestled in a quiet bend of the river. Kaleo Kai’s house is a fairly small cottage connected to a rather larger building that serves as his workshop. Kaleo Kai is a robust, middle-aged wizard with bright green hair. He listens interestedly to the report of the Forged and agrees to take on their case, IF the party will assist him with the research. The first thing he needs is several Forged for study, preferably a male and female. The party mentions Tane Kalani, and Kaleo Kai shakes his head sadly. “He was a student of mine several years ago. I study magical diseases with the hope of producing cures. Tane Kalani has a viscous streak – I caught him doing cruel experiments on people for the sake of perfecting afflictions, not curing them. Of course I had to dismiss him immediately.” The party inquires if Kaleo Kai has any idea of where Tane Kalani would go. The mage doesn’t think Tane Kalani would go to any relatives, but he had mentioned a girl, Konani Kai, who lived in Gull’s Rest.

Armed with new information, the party decides on their course – first to Gull’s Rest to try and contact Konani Kai, then to Forge to capture some specimens (a male and female villager and a zombie, if possible), a stopover in Harbormouth to send the specimens to Kaleo Kai Ikaika, then finally to Unkard to talk to the priests and the Prayerful Brotherhood.

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