Cambria

Adventure the First
New ideas come into this world somewhat like falling meteors, with a flash and an explosion, and perhaps somebody's castle-roof perforated. - Henry David Thoreau

The bustling town of Singingwater in southern Redwater is a growing town situated on a convenient crossroads, just a few days’ travel from Unkard. It is there that our story begins with a simple proposition – a caravan is traveling from Stillwater to Unkard for the festival that is about to take place.

The events planned for the next week have been planned for the past year. The commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the death of Garrick the Forger and the centennial celebration of the founding of Unkard are set to be the most magnificent spectacle seen in the Thrannish Empire. People from all over the Empire have traveled, some for months, to join in the celebrations.

Among those travelers are Baern the Whitebeard, a dwarf of Fauchard who has taken Unkard as his adopted home; Gudrun Gudlaugsdottir, a dwarven paladin seeking growth and knowledge in a far-off land; Iluliaq, the only survivor from her decimated tribe, and her faithful wolf companion, Kasake; Toriel Calenlasse, an elven druid seeking to uncover her race’s untold history; Talara Anderose, a woman unsure of her own abilities, but running from her past; and JOHN IF YOU DON’T NAME YOUR CHARACTER I’M GOING TO KILL YOU OFFREPEATEDLY AND IN INCREASINGLY HORRIBLE WAYS, an elven shaman.

These six join the same caravan – some as guards looking to acquire a bit of coin, others seeking protection from the wild things that lurk between the cities. On the first night of their journey, a comet begins blazing its way across the night sky. Many of their fellow travelers are frightened, believing the comet is some terrible omen. Baern and Hartmut Silvertonge, a bard also along for the journey, do their best to sooth the people’s fears. “Comets are omens of change, neither good nor bad. Just change.” Talara shares the caravaners’ apprehensions, while Toriel dismisses the comet as “just another aspect of nature.”

The trip to Unkard is uneventful, other than the comet steadily growing brighter. The caravan successfully arrives at the Iron Gate, a huge edifice on the western side of the city. Just as they are pulling in, an eladrin dressed in robes of gray appears on the city walls. “You! All of you! You have seen the signs in the sky; you have HEARD the sounds in the wind and felt the earth TREMBLE with its secret, and you turn to your neighbor and ask what it MEANS…” His hand makes circles in the air. “The earth IS moving, Children of the Dust. The sky shifts and the STARS stream from their courses. The waters… ah the WATERS are hungry. The ocean is hungry; she is restless; she heaves in her bed… she WRITHES. The worm EATS at her bowels and she screams. Do you hear? DO YOU HEAR!?”

He points dramatically at the comet hanging over the city, bright even in the daylight. “The light DIES in the west. We die. YOU!” He jabs at the caravaners, as if his finger were a dagger. “Make ready your houses. Make ready your TOMBS!” Reaching into a small pouch hanging from his belt, he scatters what appears to be a handful of seeds to the wind. The seeds burrow between the cracks of the cobblestones, take root and sprout into blood red plants, writhing with vines. Screams can be heard all over the city and the plants advance, buds swelling and ripening before the group’s eyes.

The brave guards leap into action: Toriel shifting his form into that of a wolf and savaging the plants. Ilu and her wolf working as a single unit, surrounding the plants and hacking at its fibrous stalks. Gudrun squares off with the plant, toe to toe, challenging it to attack any of her comrades. Undaunted, the plants’ buds ripen and drop, spilling goblins forth. Baern’s blessing from the goddess Sehanine consistently obliterates the goblins, stemming their undying tide. Talara gathers her powers to try and protect her newfound friends, but the white fire she throws seems misguided and splatters ineffectively against the cobblestones.

Though the plants emit stinging nettles and blinding spores, the group is ultimately victorious. As they are finishing off the last goblin, a portly man dressed in cleric vestments runs up, agitated. “They’re all over the city, these things. It’s a disaster! The Fields of Pelor are completely overrun; the militia is combing the city; now we’re getting runners from the outlying towns! The damn seeds caught the wind, they’re all over!” Concern for his city washes over Baern’s face, “What can we do to help?” he volunteers.

The cleric, Borin, directs them to Lionel’s Crossing, a tiny hamlet about 10 minutes’ walk upriver from Unkard. As they head off to the village, Toriel explains about the plants: Known locally as “Goblinplants”, the creatures are never found this far south, usually growing in northern Vertland and even further north, in the lands claimed by the Children of the Twelve. Its seeds are rare and difficult to gather. It’s imperative that, once found, a Goblinplant is exterminated immediately, as it is a constant source of goblins that can overrun a town in a matter of days.

After a quick rest to heal, the group hustles off to Lionel’s crossing, where they find a seemingly deserted village and a single Goblinplant, already rooted and producing minions. Now knowing a bit more about the plant-creature, they deal with it and its goblins swiftly. Just as the last goblin is pierced by Ilu’s crossbow bolt, a blaze of white light ignites the sky, dazzling the party. Blinking, they clear their eyes and look up – the comet has ignited, showering flaming rocks across the sky in all directions. The rocks begin to fall on the village, pocking the ground with craters and igniting the buildings. From the craters, strange creatures rise, creatures seemingly made from brilliant, white fire. They advance menacingly on the group.

With no time to rest or recoup, the party steels itself for the onslaught of the elementals. Thinking quickly, Talara tries to throw one into the nearby river, but its intense heat vaporizes the nearby water and it hovers just over the surface. Seeing her surrounded by the fire creatures, Toreil rushes to Talara’s side, harrying her attackers with devastating hit-and-run tactics. Baern calls for the blessings of the goddess to smite the otherworldly intruders, scorching the creatures with holy energy. Meanwhile, Gudrun seems to be having trouble connecting with the fire creatures, her warhammer passing ineffectively through their bodies. Ilu scores the first kill, a sure thrust with her spear piercing the heart of the creature, its body collapsing into a heap of coal dust. The party steadily hacks its way through the elementals, one after another falling and turning to dust.

The last of the elementals dispatched, the party is grateful for a break. Suddenly, Baern hears a bout of coughing from a nearby building. He rushes inside the flaming house, searching for the source of the noise. “If anyone is in here, come to my voice!” he calls out, raising his normally soft-spoken tone to be heard above the crackling flames. “I can’t!” a tiny voice calls back. Sehanine blesses his vision and he sees a small foot sticking out from underneath the bed. “There’s someone still in here!” he calls out.

Talara also enters the burning building, while “HE WHO DOES NOT NAME HIS CHARACTERS” heals the badly-injured Toreil and Ilu. Gudrun makes her way to the collapsed home, looking for survivors. After only a moment’s pause, Toriel races to another home, bursting through the door. A young man is collapsed in a corner, a terrible gash on his head and his legs trapped by a fallen beam. “I need some help! Someone is stuck in here!” Toreil cries out, bringing Ilu to his side. Ilu’s keen eyes spot that the beam is supporting a section of the wall that will collapse if the beam is simply moved. Toreil shores up the wall with a hoe and a pitchfork, but still, their combined strength isn’t quite enough to shift the beam. After a cursory glance in a third building, “http://www.behindthename.com/random/ USE IT” joins to help the trio free the trapped villager. To the south, Talara drags the scared youngster out from under the bed and she and Baern sprint from the burning house.

Once in the clear, Baern revives the child and tends to the young man’s wounds. Though grievously wounded, the man will survive. The party brings the wounded back to Unkard. Triage has been set up in the Field of Pelor, now back under the control of the militia. The young man is tended to, and a Matron of Pelor takes the young boy away until his family comes to claim him.

They proceed to meet Borin, currently swamped by various militia members and others who have lent their skills to the defense of Unkard. All demand payment, and Borin is frazzled trying to sort through the honest and the pretenders. Fortunately he recognizes party and pays them each 50 gold, though Baern requests materials for divine rituals instead of the currency. Borin is grateful, as the calamity is stretching Unkard’s coffers.

Just as they are collecting their payment, Queen Katrionna storms out of the main Council Chambers. Gliding smoothly down the stairs, she is followed hotly by Bryce the Game, hollering that she won’t get away with such treachery. Alden the Dark follows a short time afterwards, looking pensive. As the commotion dies down, a herald mounts the stairs. “Devastation is sweeping through our lands. Our armies are spread too thin to investigate every occurrence. We need volunteers to investigate the extent of the damage and control the creatures that have appeared.” Baern looks around to those who have risked his life with him. Kasake whines and give a sharp bark. Ilu smiles and strokes the wolf’s head. “We’re in.” Toreil nods in agreement “The wilds must be protected.” “As must the people,” Talara adds. Gudrun and “XXX” agree.

The herald looks pleased at the group’s quick volunteering. “Ah, most excellent, We have early reports from three places: Glenn’s Dale, in Vertland; Sweetclover, in Redwater; and Gustav’s Pass in Fauchard. You’re the first to volunteer, so you have first choice.”

After a quick bit of deliberation, they choose to go to Gustav’s Pass, to secure the road for any refugees that may be fleeing the fires from the sky.

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Adventure the Second
Every spirit makes its house, and we can give a shrewd guess from the house to the inhabitant. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having decided on Gustav’s Pass as their destination, the group sets out on foot, having realized that riding horses are still out of their price range. As they travel up the road, they pass several groups of people, all heading to Unkard. Weary and careworn, most of these travelers are tight-lipped, still grieving over the loss of their homes and family members. Most are headed to the Field of Pelor in Unkard, a sector of the city known for its hospitality and charity to the destitute. Though most refugees are unwilling to talk much, what little information the party manages to gather paints a grim picture: Homes and cultivated lands were hit the hardest; nearly everyone lost a family member; and not a single militia member has been seen in the aftermath. Most folks expected the local Barons to help out with the rescue and rebuilding of their homes, but the people feel abandoned.
So the people set out to Unkard, to find lost family, to try and start a new life. But even the journey is more dangerous now. On the road, our travelers come upon a terrible ambush. Four wolves, their fur crackling with white fire, and several hobgoblins spring out from the thick undergrowth. The hobgoblins’ arrows fly true and drop two of the refugees, while a wolf savages a third. Hearing the cries, the group rushes into action. Immediately, the wolves break off, trying to cut off and surround Talara from her companions. One wolf cuts through the underbrush and goes toe-to-paw with Gudrun, while the goblin archers circle around and fire barbed arrows at the unprotected. Just as the wolves are about to pounce Talara, Ilu drives his spear deep into the chest of the one fighting Gudrun and Talara finds herself safely behind Baern. The third goblin, carrying a rod with a curious crystal set on top, slams his staff to the ground, unleashing a wave of force that washes over Baern, yet he stands unmoving, a rock that cuts the stream. Her previous foe slain, Gudrun charges down, taking the space vacated by Talara and calls out a challenge to the possessed creatures. The wolves snarl and circle about her, but their jaws cannot penetrate her virtuous armor. Ilu, Kasake and Baern make quick work of the hobgoblin warcaster, while Talara, Toreil and Darcassan finish off the wolves. The goblin archers, however, have not stopped their sniping. Circling around behind the body of the fight, they loose their arrows at Toreil, dropping the elf into unconsciousness. Baern is first on the scene and, calling upon the grace of Sehanine, binds Toriel’s wounds. The rest of their warband defeated, the archers are quickly surrounded and dispatched.
In the aftermath, Baern and Talara do their best to comfort the surviving young man while Gudrun lays his family to rest. They travel with the boy for a short while, until they find another group of refugees traveling to Unkard. The boy leaves them and again travels the dark road that so recently claimed his family.
Soon, the road parts from the Fulda River and begins climbing the first foothills of the Dhartan Mountains. Fields of waving grass give way to the short, stubbly heather that carpets the slopes. Here and there, goats and sheep dot the hills, having panicked in the Catastrophe and run off. The road leads into the town from the south, and more scenes of devastation greet their eyes. Nearly every building has been damaged or destroyed. The local shrine, dedicated to Pelor, Erathis and Melora, has taken a direct hit – its pillars are crumbled and scorched. The only building that seems to be relatively undamaged is a rather large one in the center of town. A signboard with a lone pine tree hangs from the front, swinging and creaking mournfully in the breeze. The streets of Gustav’s Pass are deserted, so the group approaches the largest building and knocks carefully. “If you’re coming in, come in already!” a woman’s voice calls through the door. They enter into a rather large foyer area. To the left, fires pop and an older woman appears in the doorway. “Well…” she starts, then sees the strangers. “Oh, visitors? Didn’t expect to see anyone like you. Are you Bryce’s men?” she asks. “No, we were sent here from Unkard,” Talara volunteers. The woman snorts and shakes her head, “Would have been too much to ask for, I suppose, having the Barons actually do their jobs and send someone out. Oh well. In any case, welcome to the Kiefernholz Inn. I’m… well, I guess I’m the patronness now… Will you be staying the night? I can make up some rooms for you.” Baern steps forward with a comforting smile. “We may be, my lady. We’ve been sent here from Unkard to help this village. Tell me, what problems can we assist with?” The woman sighs and slumps onto her bar. “There’s just so much… Trees walking around, the animals on fire… There’s been ghosts haunting the old battlefield south of here, though they haven’t caused any harm yet, people are still real unsettled by them… and the boys went out earlier this morning to fell some lumber to rebuild the houses and I haven’t heard anything from them yet. And then there’s the…opportunists…” “We’ll do what we can to help,” Talara reassures her. She introduces everyone, “and you are?” “Imke Malthesdottir, now patronness of the Kierfernholtz Inn… though I don’t know for how much longer.” “Is there some problem there?” Baern asks, “those opportunists you spoke of?” Imke shakes her head, “Just that Wieland Gastwirt, from the Mica clan, had been bothering us for years to sell this place. Now that my husband is gone… maybe I should just sell it and move in with my sister.” “Don’t give up quite yet,” Gudrun reassures her. “We’ll do our best to sort this place out.” “And we’ll start with the boys,” Baern says. “You said they haven’t come back yet?” “Yes,” Imke explains “They went out earlier this morning to fell lumber to rebuild the houses – it’s pine, it needs to season for a while before winter comes. They haven’t brought back as much as a twig, and I haven’t heard the ax ringing yet. The forest is just east of town, maybe if you could go and check on them?”
Leaving the Kierfernholtz, they follow the road east of town. Nestled up against the mountains is the forest Imke mentioned. As they approach, they see four men by the edge, arguing. As they draw closer, they see one of the men standing in front of a giant pine tree, his arms spread as if protecting it. The others, two men and a dwarf, stand around, looking confused and arguing with him.
“What seems to be the trouble, gentlemen?” Baern asks as they draw close. “And who’re you?” one of them asks gruffly, “I don’t know any of you.” “We’re from Unkard, we’ve been sent to help this town,” Talara explains. “Well maybe you can start with Reiner, then,” Matthias says. “Man’s gone crazy,” Ludvigs the dwarf adds. “It’s not me that’s crazy, it’s them,” Reiner explains, with an exasperated air. “You could talk some sense into them.” “Let’s hear both sides of the story,” Baern starts. “Well,” the third man starts, “The four of us came out here this morning to get wood to rebuild our houses. The ones that were damaged and such – we wanted to fell the lumber as soon as possible, you know how pine is. It needs to season as much as it can before the winter snows come. Anyways, we get here, Reiner included, and we mark out to chop our first tree. Reiner swings his axe into the trunk, then stands there for a second, then drops it and throws his arms out like a fool and says we can’t harvest this forest. That the catastrophe was divine punishment for our arrogance and we needed to be punished. We’ve been arguing ever since.” Baern turns to Reiner with a questioning look. “It is divine punishment,” Reiner explains. “I may have come out here to commit wanton acts of destruction, but then I realized that we’d just be repeating our mistakes. The Catastrophe was our punishment for warping nature, for twisting the lands to fit our selfish purposes. We need to live in harmony with the land, not bend it to our wills.” The woodsmen shake their heads. “Listen to this guy! ‘Live in harmony…’ he’ll have us all freeze to death in the woods,” Winoc says. Reiner shrugs, “The strong survive, the weak perish. That’s just the way of things. You’d destroy this forest to build shoddy homes, then as soon as the spring thaw comes you’d send downriver for new lumber, have yet another forest destroyed.” The group seems torn over Reiner’s arguments. Toriel speaks up, “What Reiner says does have some truth to it…” Baern asks “What would you have the villagers do then?” A beatific smile breaks over Reiner’s face. “In the woods, there’s a clearing that would be perfect for a new settlement. It’s shielded from the wind, and with a few hides from the animals that we kill for food, would make and excellent place to live.” Baern looks at the others, “Do you know of such a place?” Matthias shakes his head, “Haven’t run around in the forest since I was a boy.” Ludvigs shrugs, “I’ve never been in there. And I don’t plan on living in a hut like some savage.” Reiner sighs dramatically, “If you would only come in and take a look at it, I know you would love it.” He turns to the group, “Will you at least come see it? Maybe you can talk some sense into these three…” The group agrees and follows Reiner into the forest. Before leaving, however, Talara extracts a promise from the other three woodsmen to wait until they come back before chopping any lumber.
As they walk, the group talks to Reiner about what his life was like in the Pass. Reiner happily tells them of his days as a shepherd, tending the flocks as they grazed up and down the mountainsides. He told them of the early lambings in March when the blizzards still raged, of the cold nights in the birthing huts tending to the sheep, of carrying lambs too young to walk in his coat.
After about an hour following the twisting paths in the forest, Reiner stops in the middle of a clearing. He spreads his arms wide and revolves in a circle, “Isn’t it wonderful?” he asks. Toriel looks skeptical. The trees are no where near dense enough to block the wind and the snow. Baern is also unimpressed, “Reiner, it’s nowhere near big enough for your entire town to live here.” “Oh, that’s all right,” Reiner says cheerily, “Not everyone will survive the first winter, and we’ll have room enough.” “You’d let your village suffer such great losses?” Ilu adds in disbelief. Reiner shrugs uncomfortably, “That’s the way things go… the strong survive, the weak….don’t….” Talara presses the point, “That’s not what you were saying before. What happened to you caring for the sheep? For the lambs in March too young and weak to walk?” Reiner rubs his forehead and seems to be sweating “We…didn’t….let the weak ones… breed. Pass on their….weakness….” he mutters, stumbling over the words. “Your village can’t live here, Reiner,” Baern says. “They need the lumber.” “NO!” Reiner yells out. “I won’t let them have it! They’ve been stealing what’s mine for too long! It was all mine once!” “Who’s been stealing from you?” Baern asks, cautiously. “Erathis! She’s been growing all this time, taking what’s mine, stealing. It all used to be mine and she’s so greedy!” “There’s a place for both cities and forests,” Baern starts. “What’s your name again?” Talara speaks up. Reiner cries out in pain and swings his axe through the air, loosing a wave of fire.
His eyes are two burning orbs of white fire, and from the thicket behind him come another wolf, its fur coated with white fire; a unicorn, blue sparks dancing from its horn; and a massive boar, blue lightning dancing between its tusks. The unicorn lowers its horn and charges Toriel, knocking him back and to the ground. The wolf circles around and pounces Ilu, while the boar charges Gudrun. Battle ensues. As Gudrun and the boar face off, neither one seems to be able to hit the other – armor on one side and a thick hide on the other. Ilu and Kasake, however, swiftly dispatch the wolf as it tries to slip away from them. Seeing their power, the unicorn lowers its horn and charms Ilu, trying to gain a protector. Baern steps up to Reiner, addressing whatever may be controlling him and commands it to leave the man and stop manipulating the creatures of the wood. Reiner replies by spitting a stream of acid into Baern’s face, forcing him to duck quickly to avoid it. Talara’s eyes glow as she gestures with her new rod and sends the fires of the Feywild at Reiner. He staggers as the fires wash over him, his eyes no longer human or even orbs of fire, but solid orbs of jade that look out over the horizon. Darcassan’s spirit companion snaps at Reiner, finishing him off. As he falls to the ground, waves of crackling blue energy flow into his belt, and his body melts and sinks into the ground. Meanwhile, Baern, confronted by both the boar and the unicorn, speaks one of his terrible dark words of power. The boar and the unicorn are dazed by the power flowing from this seemingly-harmless dwarf. Toriel, in the guise of a wolf, positions himself between the remaining two creatures and bites at them in a whorl of teeth and claws. Eventually, both the unicorn and boar perish. Toriel mourns that such magnificent animals had to be dispatched when they were not in their right minds.
As the group recovers from battle, they notice that Reiner’s body is gone, melted away into the grass-covered clearing. All that remains of him are his belt and an odd mask. Baern examines the two cautiously. The belt, while magical, seems safe enough, but the mask radiates powerful divine energy. It is carved from a single piece of jade, and the edges are set with turquoises. Ilu comments that both materials are often used in shrines to Melora, the jade representing the forests and wildernesses; the turquoise representing the seas. Cautiously, Baern picks up the mask and turns it over, seeing writing on the inside.

Standing alone on a barren hill,
My solitude undisturbed.
Mountains and valleys are carved
Thousands of years in my breast.

Neither Ilu, Darcassan, Toriel or Baern recognize any of these lines as coming from any liturgy they’ve heard of, though Toriel points out that they might be referring to a specific place.
The sun starting to sink behind the mountains, the group picks their way back through the forest to where they left the woodsmen. As they near the edge, the group can see that the three men have kindled a fire and are sitting around, discussing what to do. Matthias has seemingly taken up Reiner’s argument and punctuates all his statements with “But WHAT IF he was right?” Ludvigs looks torn between the two sides, while Winoc staunchly declaims that Reiner is a raving lunatic. As the group approaches, the three scramble to their feet. “Well,” Winoc says gruffly, “Where’s Reiner?” The party explains that he was being controlled by some force in the forest, and that he attacked them upon reaching the clearing. Baern cautions the three men that the forest may still have some residual power around it, and that caution should be taken. The woodsmen look taken aback. “Well? What are you waiting for?” Winoc says, with a sweeping gesture. “Fix it.” Combining their knowledge of nature, religion and the arcane world, Darcassan is the focal point for the ritual that cleanses the forest. Blue fire leaps from tree to tree, condensing in a swirling vortex over the center of the forest. It shoots up into the sky, streaking to every corner of the horizon – and sends a tentacle down into the mask that Baern was holding. “The forest is cleansed,” Baern says with a sigh. “But pray, still take caution,” Toriel adds. The men nod, and approach the nearest tree almost reverently, muttering some sort of barely-remembered prayer.
Imke is glad to welcome the group back to the Kierfernholtz and sorry to hear of Reiner’s death. She tells them that the only family he had left was a cousin, Hartwig Jotansson, who moved to Unkard. The party promises to inform Reiner’s cousin when the return, but in the meantime, enjoy a well-earned meal. As night falls, what’s left of the village streams into the Inn. Imke is nearly overwhelmed, but the women help her serve the men and bundle the children up on pallets in front of the fire. Imke shows the group to their rooms, “I’ve aired out all the rooms on the south side. They all have a view of the old battlefield, but I’ll send one of the boys to get you when the ghosts show up. They usually don’t appear ‘till midnight or so. Get some rest if you can.”
That Night… terrible dreams and visions befall the adventurers, each one horrific, but each revolving around the same figure, a man in a white porcelain mask. Some awaken screaming, others huddle in fear. Gathering in Gudrun and Talara’s room, an oppressive air fills the small space, as if too much horror is packed in one room. A knock at the door startles them, and Kasake jumps from the door with a yelp. A sleepy voice drifts through “Um… Ms. Imke told me to tell you the ghosts are out.” Baern opens the door to see a young boy about 8, a sheepskin draped around his shoulders and rubbing his eyes sleepily. “Thank you, young one. You can go back to bed. We’ll take care of it.” Talara wipes the tears from her eyes and manages a weak smile. Ilu pats Kasake’s head, drawing some comfort from her companion, and nods. Gudrun sheathes the small knife she was holding and stands. “We’ll take care of everything. I swear it.”

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Adventure the Third
"I have tasted eggs, certainly," said Alice; "but little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know." "I don't believe it," said the Pigeon; "but if they do, then they're a kind of serpent: that's all I can say." - Lewis Carroll

Outside the inn, ghostly forces marshal on the fields just south of town. The human ghosts close ranks and prepare to make a desperate stand against the superior forces of the dragonborn. Spears glint in the moonlight and are brought to bear against the swords and arrows of the dragonborn. Though scarcely fifty feet away, the group strains their ears to make out the clashes of the terrible battle.

A group of dragonborn suddenly wheel around from the body of the combat, pointing and (presumably) yelling at the party. Two archers nock their barbed arrows and let fly, as three foot soldiers bellow and charge. A pitched battle ensues, Toriel dashing in and out snapping wildly. Talara’s eyes gleam and flash a myriad colors as she teleports around the battlefield. Baern calls down the blessings of Sehanine and stands firm from the dragonborns’ onslaught. Gudrun’s mace hammers the enemies’ heads, even as their chilled breath washes over her. Soon enough, the ghosts are dispatched, and they melt back away to their own time.
To the group’s despair, however, their skirmish with the dragonborn doesn’t seem to have ceased the battle. Upon closer inspection, the ghosts seem ‘locked’ in place, repeating the same two or three seconds again and again. Pooling their knowledge, Baern, Toriel, Darcassan and Gudrun perform a ritual to lay the spirits to rest. From over the hills to the north, a ram’s horn sounds. Kunibeert of Rhyolite, the Devoted Ancestor, has once again come to the rescue. The humans lift their spears in victory; the dragonborn withdraw. The ghosts fade away in the moonlight, leaving nothing but a long, glittering object on the ground. The party claims the Frost Spear as their own.

As they head back to the inn, however, a strange chill pierces the air. On the battleground that was so recently cleansed, a tall, dark figure appears out of the night. Its long, black cloak obscures the body, but under the hood is a face – a featureless mask of porcelain. The figure swoops across the field, charging Baern, passing through him, and disappearing as quickly as it had appeared.

The next morning, the group makes sure nothing more is required of them at Gustav’s Pass. Imke assures them that they have everything under control and wishes them a safe trip back to Unkard. The trip back home is uneventful, a welcome 4 days’ rest. Once back in the city, the group meets with Borin who thanks them for their time and rewards them with a small purse. While the party tells Borin of their discoveries in Gustav’s Pass, they keep the existence of the mask a secret. The tail end of their story is interrupted, however, as a page summons Borin to an important meeting. Borin begs their forgiveness and asks if they would come back tomorrow, as he’s sure there’s more work to be done. The party agrees and heads out.

At this point, Baern and Talara head off to the temple of Sehanine, Gudrun decides to visit the Raven Queen’s shrine, Darcassan loiters in the Bazaar and Toriel pays a visit to the shrine of Melora. Gudrun quickly notices that she’s being followed by a young street urchin. After catching and questioning her shadow, she learns that a merchant, one Gwillym Glendower, has a standing reward for anyone who can provide him information about any new travelers to the city.
Toriel’s visit to the shrine of Melora is similarly enlightening. The High Priestess is ill and not seeing any visitors; the Underpriestess is overworked and still fretting about Melora’s role in the upcoming ceremony for Garrick’s funeral celebrations, and Toriel is likewise followed back into the city. He too, catches and bribes his tail, to and learns that Glendower is looking for anyone selling or asking questions about a mask. Toriel’s gold gives the man a case of amnesia and he wanders off, leaving Toriel alone.
Baern and Talara are followed by a young boy, whose tongue is also loosened by coin. He tells them that Gwillym often has some odd jobs for the poor of the town – sometimes unloading boxes, sometimes following people, sometimes less legitimate work, like sabotaging rival market stands. Gwillym was implicated in the big fire that destroyed most of the Bazaar five years back, but nothing was ever proven. As they make their way back to the meeting place, Talara asks about for more information about the sketchy merchant. She learns that Gwillym is rich, but not well-liked; influential, but most often absent from the city. He makes four trips to Unkard yearly, and arrived a week or two ago for the festival. He’s staying at the Northgate inn currently.

When the group reconvenes, they all relate tales of being followed, and decide the most prudent course of action is to confront Gwillym Glendower. That evening, they head over to the Northgate Inn, where a serving girl is more than happy to point them over to where Glendower is sitting. The group quickly ascertains that something is amiss with this normally-shrewd man. His agitation is evident, and, upon learning of the mask’s existence, offers five thousand gold for it. Silver-tongued Baern eventually gets Gwillym to explain everything – his family has been taken hostage by a man known only as The Buyer. Gwillym has to obtain the mask at any personal cost. He grips the broken pendant in his hand, then shows the group: his wife’s pendant that he gave her on their wedding, in his family for generations. The clasp is broken as if it was violently torn from the woman’s neck. Gwillym indicates that if he hasn’t succeeded by the next check-in, the Buyer will be sending him one of his daughter’s fingers. Unnerved by this information, the group volunteers to help Gwillym get his family back. Glendower clutches at this feeble ray of hope, and gives the group access to his warehouse stock for the upcoming confrontation.

The next night finds the group at The Tankard, a run-down booze joint just outside the slums. Toriel and Darcassan slink in first, trying to blend in among the laborers. Baern and Gudrun go in next, posing as master and pupil. Baern’s presence is barely noted among the inebriated (or desperately trying to be inebriated) patrons. Gwillym, known for his infidelity, comes in last with Talara on his arm and approaches the Buyer and his Associate, sitting in a dimly-lit corner. After a bit of verbal dancing, Gwillym produces the mask. The Buyer’s eyes glint greedily and he demands that Gwillym give him the mask. Gwillym hesitates, not wanting to actually give it up, but the Associate pulls out a crystal ball and sprinkles a red powder over it, wondering aloud which finger Morwenna is about to lose. Choking back a cry, Gwillym finally hands the mask to the Buyer, who secrets it in his robe and begins striding out. Before they can leave, though, the party springs into action. The Buyer’s sword crashes against Gudrun’s warhammer, as the Associate makes a nuisance of himself shooting beams of colored light around the room. Deadliest of all, though, are a pair of mastiffs the Associate calls from the shadows who blink around the room, snapping at exposed flesh. The hounds are killed, the Buyer and Associate disabled, and the whole scuffle moves to Gwillym’s ‘special room’ in the warehouse.

While the prisoners are still unconscious, Toriel blindfolds them so they can’t teleport away. Baern recognizes them as eladrin, though not ones living in the city that he knows of. The Buyer is woken first and questioned. He chortles and dares the group to kill him, the only way they’ll ever retrieve the mask. Baern tries to take the mask from the Buyer’s robe, but his hand passes right through it, causing the Buyer to laugh even more. The Buyer quickly clams up, only humming a tune in a haunting, minor key. The party tries to interrogate the Associate next, but only learn that Gwillym’s family is not being kept in Gull’s Rest, before the Associate lapses into the same sad tune. Going through the eladrins’ pockets is slightly more useful, yielding the communication sphere, the powders and a small, brass key stamped with HC:22. Talara identifies the key as going to Harold’s Colomendy – a dovecote in the south Bazaar that specializes in renting out homing pidgeons. For now, though, the group is divided on what to do with the two eladrin, and how they will reclaim the mask.

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Adventure the Fourth
A very little thing, a little worm,/ Or hourglass-blazoned spider, it is said,/ Can kill a tiger. - Robert Lowell

Ensconced safely in Gwillym’s warehouse, the group considers what to do with their captives. They know the only way to reclaim the Mask of Melora is to be given it freely, or to kill the current holder. The Buyer has given them no choice – he will not surrender the mask. Toriel volunteers to be the one do do the deed. Baern nods his assent and leaves the room with Talara. Shifting into his wolf form, Toriel quickly dispatches the eladrin. A bright light tears through the room as the wolf snaps the neck. Blinking back the dazzlement, Toriel, Ilu and Gudrun are surprised to see merely an empty pile of clothes where the eladrin had once been. The Buyer’s body has disappeared. Not pausing to wonder, the travelers bring the Associate to the shrine of Bahamut and deliver him to the City Watch. Gwillym promised to bring a suit against the man and keep him tied up in the legal system for as long as possible, but implores the group to rescue his family.

Chasing their only true lead, the group heads to Harold’s Colomendy, a passenger pigeon service with stations throughout the Empire. Talara inquires about the key they had found in the Buyer’s belongings. The lady at the counter indicates that the pigeon on that perch is keyed to Harbormouth, the capital of the Harbormouth Baronies in northern Riversend. Feigning ignorance, Talara asks who received the last message from the Buyer, and receives an answer – Tiernan the Fat, Gwillym’s retainer. Talara writes a message to Eileen Goblinet, one of her acquaintances, more to cover their visit than any real conversation.

Sparing no more time, the group purchases the swiftest horses and rides on to Harbormouth. Two days’ travel brings them to the River Bandon. They purchase passage down the river on barges, which deposits them in Riversend. There’s no time for sightseeing though, and three days’ hard riding deposits them at the gates of Harbormouth. The normally-bustling city is subdued though; their progress down to the docks is hampered by soldiers that have cordoned off the docks. Duke Donough has closed the entire port, angering the merchants who depend on the sea routes. The group probes into why the docks are closed and learn the Duke is worried about attacks by Westling Raiders. Even though the Raiders haven’t been sighted for weeks, the Duke refuses to open the port, citing that the soldiers will “Hold the line, regardless of the cost.” As the group falls back, Toriel is suspicious of the Duke’s motivations, a sentiment shared by most of his compatriots.

As they leave the blockade, the group notices a disturbance by the Glendower Warehouse. The dockworkers that had been clustered around, lethargically, jump up and hail a man striding down the street. “Derry! Derry! What did the Duke say?” Derry shakes his head sadly and calls out that the Duke hasn’t relented. A collective groan goes up from the dockworkers. Derry tries to quell the growing unrest among the workers, eventually pulling out his own purse and paying the dockworkers a small amount. Talara also hands out some coin, then approaches Derry. Derry indicates that Tiernan the Fat has purchased a house just north of town for Lady Glendower, and moved the family in about two weeks ago.

Baern and Toriel advocate the direct approach in dealing with Tiernan, and the others quickly agree. About a mile north of town on the cliffs is the manor house that Tiernan bought. An old building, built in the earliest days of the Empire, the stone edifice looms over beautifully manicured grounds. The group approaches the front door, which opens before they even get the chance to knock. A massive, bald man, impressively fat confronts them. “What do you want?” he rudely confronts them. Talara explains they have business with the retainer, being sent by Gwillym. Tiernan blocks the doorway, until Talara not-so-subtly hints that they’d like to be invited inside. Tiernan grumbles and waddles into the office, sinking into a creaking chair. “Where’s your letter?” he gruffly asks them. Talara doesn’t even bother bluffing – “We know you have the Lady Glendower and Morwenna.” “The Lady Glendower is…. indisposed. A woman in her delicate condition cannot see any visitors.” Baern and Gudrun recognize the terms Tiernan is using, hinting that not only is Lady Glendower pregnant, but pregnant with a bastard. All of them notice Tiernan fumbling with something under his desk, which makes them spring into action. Gudrun grabs his wrist, stopping him from putting a curious yellow powder on another Sphere of Communication. “Why?” Baern asks. “Why would you betray them?” Gudrun alone recognizes the glint of greed that clouds his vision. Tiernan shrugs “They paid well. And I get the company once he’s disposed of. Gwillym could be making a killing in the aftermath of the Catastrophe. He’s all about ‘protecting the customer base’ and refuses to make the profit he could be making right now. Fool.” “Where. Are. They.” Toriel growls. Tiernan carelessly shrugs and motions over his shoulder. “Downstairs.” “Who else is down there?” Talara wants to know. “I don’t know, I don’t go down there ever,” Tiernan says callously. The group binds and gags Tiernan, then stuffs him in a closet before heading downstairs to rescue the Glendower family.

The steps lead down several flights before terminating in a thick stone door. Baern throws open the door and reveals several humans sitting around in a storeroom. The guards are startled and the rescue party gets the drop on them. The rogue is startled and drops nearly immediately, while the large axe-man takes beating. Gudrun advances on the two crossbow men menacingly. One of them fires an explosive shot into the fray, damaging his allies as well as the heroes. After felling the axe man and one of the archers, the second archer surrenders, jabbering at the party in an unknown language.

After restraining the archer, the group moves further down the chiseled hallway, coming to another door. Ilu carefully listens at it and hears only running water and a strange gloopy noise. Cautiously they open the door and let the light from their torches illuminate the seemingly-empty room. Baern’s keen eyes, however, spot the lurking danger – two large cubes of gooey ooze are slowly slinking towards them. The first cube slams Toriel, sticking him to the floor with an excretion. The other makes his way towards Barn, who avoids being likewise stuck to the floor. Toriel turns into a wolf, unleashing a burst of teeth and claws, pushing the cube back. The party approaches, perhaps too confidently, and looses a terrible barrage. The cubes retaliate by engulfing Kasake and Gudrun. Baern, too, was about to be swallowed, but instead unleashes a divine storm at the cube, pushing it away. The party desperately fights to free their trapped companions; Kasake eventually squirming free. Gudrun, however, can’t seem to escape the cube, so instead beats it from the inside. The acid ravages her flesh, but her friends free her in time, saving her from a gristly fate. They take a moment to catch their breath and wipe the slime from their weapons before forging on.

The carved walls and tiled floors give way to a natural cave passage. Ilu scouts ahead, and sees several figures in a distant fireglow. Three eladrin and two rather large spiders guard two figures bound in a corner. Ilu manages to sneak up the passage enough to spy on the guards, letting the party again get the drop on them. The rescuers barrel into the room, trying to maneuver to an advantageous position. The guards swing great-axes around threateningly, the mage throws a zone of sticky webbing on the ground, immobilizing most of the party. The real danger, however, turns out to be the spiders which jump into action. One of them pounces on Toriel, dropping him to the ground. Baern, luckily, manages to kill it before it causes too much more mayhem. Talara maneuvers around the webbing, bringing a much-needed potion to Toriel, but she too is jumped by a spider. The party sprawls, poison seeping into their veins, but Baern binds Toriel’s wounds just in time. He’s up on his feet, snarling and snapping at the guards once again. On the other side of the room, Ilu and Kasake are dueling it out with the mage. Her virulent spear jabs as Kasake; the spider pounces again, and the brave wolf also falls. Ilu manages to save her loyal companion with a well-timed heal, and the wolf takes her revenge on the mage. Soon, all of the eladrin lie dead at the group’s feet, and they rush to tend to the family.

Rowen and Morgana are slightly malnourished, and Morgana’s hand is wrapped in bandages. Gudrun examines the wound – the ring finger on her left hand has been amputated, but the wound is clean and healing. Rowen comforts her daughter as best she can, and asks where they’ve been taken. Gudrun says they’ve been taken to Harbormouth; that Tiernan had betrayed them. Rowen lets them know that the guards switch in and out, coming in from the passage on the other side of the cave. The party treks along that passage, but come to a room filled with a pool of tainted, foul, sludgey water. The only feasible passage is a narrow, slippery ledge around one side. Rather than risk the family’s safety, they backtrack up the passage, leaving through the house. They pull Tiernan out of the storeroom, intending to turn him in to the police, though Rowen thinks his throat should be cut right there. Talara intervenes, however, and insists that he be turned over to the authorities. Rowen does get in a well-placed slap when she learns that he was spreading a rumor about her infidelity.

The party exits the house triumphantly, having saved the innocents that were put in harms way… but their jubilation is short lived. The reek of smoke fills the air, as it curls blackly up from the town of Harbormouth. As they look out to the sea, they see the forest of masts, the blue and white sails, the dragon-headed prows of the Westling Raiders.

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Adventure the Fifth
Let no one say that taking action is hard. Action is aided by courage, by the moment, by impulse, and the hardest thing in the world is making a decision. - Franz Grillparzer

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.

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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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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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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 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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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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