Shorn 26th, 1048 TR, Early Evening : Having gathered supplies and the children enxt to the animals, the adventurers began preparations to leave and/or interrogate their prisoners. Kruck began readying the ox-cart and ponies, finding saddles for all five in the wagon. He also tried to talk to the kids, but they glowered and seemed very afraid of him. Squirrel tried as well, but they didn’t seem very friendly. Lord Taumus of House Daure started gathering “Raven” tattoos by carving the marked flesh from their bodies, and placing it in one of his preserving jars. Lady Vathra banRainha gathered Ash Cogward and Fangrik in the shrine chamber, and proceeded to explain her plan to “scare” the information from them.
Vathra shape-changed into a spiky demon (dubbed Lady Thorn by Fangrik), and then dragged Birgitte onto the wooden altar of The Forgotten God, made sure her binding was secure, and pulled out her dagger. Ash and Fangrik took the blindfolds off all four prisoners, and then watched as Vathra plunged the dagger into Birgitte’s chest in a coup-de-grac, slaying her instantly.
Amid the screams f the prisoners, and the shocked silence of Ash and Fangrik, the corpse and altar it rested on gave off a pulsing-purple glow accompanied by a slow-creeping chill. Fangrik backed off, and Ash stared in horror as Vathra, non-plussed, began rooting around in Birgitee’s chest cavity for something… When the chill and glow started to pool, however, and immediately formed into a dark shadowy wratih-like form, Vathra realized the danger in her situation, it struck her, and she retreated. So did Ash and Fangrik. The prisoners screamed on.
Vathra retreated into the bridge leading to the leader’s chamber, and watched as her companions retreated out the other door, disappearing from sight. The Wraith moved to the bound and helpless other female bandit, and promptly slew her. Recognizing the danger, Vathra started to cut the bonds of the bandit archer closest to her. Ash and Fangrik readied their defenses, preparing to defend the entrance to the children’s chamber. Out in the clearing, Kruck and Squirrel, both moved quickly towards the treehouses, and Taumus stopping her tasks, moved quickly to join Ash and Fangrik in the next room.
The dead female bandit glowed briefly in a purplish glow and another wraith rose from her corpse, joining wiht its maker and both moved to attack the nearest people; the bandit archer (just freed) and bandit leader still bound, slaying both and feeding from them. Vathra recognizing her danger, shape-changed back to her “true-self”, and proceeded to clumsily fly around the chamber’s outside, perching on the bridge between the child’s room and the outer barracks, behind her companions.
Two new wraiths rose from the corpses of the bandits, and the four creatures wafted through the treehouse walls to attack the adventurers in the next room. One moved to attack Squirrel, recently arrived through the hatch in the floor, two attacked Fangrik, and another attacked Ash. Kruck soon arrived, passing Vathra, telling her she was on fire… Their cold, weakening touch and insubstantial nature gave them an advantage, though Taumus was able to mitigate that somewhat using his skills in undead fighting that disrupted their defenses and made them vulnerable to attacks. Ash also protected his two companions, Kruck and Fangrik with defenses against necrotic attacks, granting them great protection for the fight, though his healing was limited after this.
Combined, the group were able to slowly whittle away at the wraiths, facing some danger in the long battle, but eventually their combined efforts and planned defenses kept the undead at bay, until the final two were bloodied, one slain and the last fled through a wall and into the trees to the north. The group took stock of their exhausted status, but all eyes turned to Vathra and her cold-blooded murder…
Squirrel tried vainly to convince Fangrik to not attack her (Squirrel – “She’s my pet, and I’m still training her!”), and Vathra sprouted her smoky wings and flew off to the trees to the north, perching there and staying away. Taumus, Fangrik and Kruck ran out into the clearing, chasing her (Taumus – “She’s heading for the CHILDREN!”). Kruck, Fangrik, Vathra and Squirrel got into a grand philosophical discussion about what had happened with Vathra, resulting in Fangrik labeling her Black Vathra, and her revealing her “true form” to the group… very similar to a Tiefling, only human-toned skin with black, smoky and insubstantial wings and a head of sharp iron horns. Seductive, but deadly.
Taumus, meanwhile, heard the horrors of the origin of the wraiths from Ash, and the two headed back into the shrine chamber, and began trying to remove the taint of evil that had arisen there. Eventually, they dragged the corpses out into the child’s chamber, tossed the three statues out the door (finding the wooden altar/box to be filled with treasure, which they unlocked and quietly split), scattered holy water from one of Taumus’ vials around the altar and chamber, and eventually used the tapestries to start a fire, which quickly spread in the dry autumn air.
Gathering the supplies and accumulated loot into the wagon, getting the children on their ponies, and everyone suspiciously watching each other, the group made their way back to Kar Mandri as darkness fell. Fangrik sniffed-out a short-cut to save some time, and the group returned late in the evening to the way station. Kruck stayed to take care fo the animals, while the group bundeled the children inside the hall, looking for their employer, Edensor the Merchant. Inside were the usual collection of guards from Frandor’s Keep, the passengers and merchants from the caravan, and a group of adventurers in the corner, The Black Banners.
The group reported in to Edensor, to which he seemed horrified that there seemed to be a tie between The Ravens and The Iron Ring. He thanked them for their efforts, but claimed that “Rikar’s Raven Juniors” were not his concern; the adventurers now had five orphans on their hands. Squirrel tried to speak with the children again, but they glowered at him, and Ash mtried to engage them with his little familiar, Clinkton, but they just poked it with a stick. Seems slaughtering their parents, stealing their toys and setting fire to their home was more than enough to make them hate the party… Ash set about cleaning his tools and gun, eve though his party kidded him about it. Fangrik found out about the collection of tattooed skin Taumus had taken from the corpses, and smashed it into the fire. He crawled into a corner by himself and whimpered himself to sleep, his ears low…
In the middle of the night, Ash awoke to find a strange blue-glowing thing floating above him; The Whisp. Vathra and Squirrel both peered across at the creature, having awoken by its low, soft humming. The Whisp reached out a tendril of blue light, in an attempt to touch the blade Brightflame held in Ash’ arms, but he drew the blade and took a swipe at it. The creature disappeared in a soft hum of sound, like a window closing on a breeze, and made everyone even more on edge… if that was possible. N o one knew much about what it might be, but it was Fey, and seemed tied to the sword… The group fell back to sleep once more.
Shorn 27th, 1048 TR : The cold was everywhere leading to caravan to have a slow start. The snows could be seen on the upper peaks of the mountains around them; winter had finally arrived. Squirrel started accosting the leader, Helm, and he eventually drew the wrath of Knu, who tossed a dagger at him. Captain Tallus approached the adventurers, explaining that The Balck Banners were coming with the caravan for the next day and a bit, but they ere going to ride in the back and otherwise keep to themselves. The adventurers took the lead, riding in relative silence, with their string of children behind them.
After a cold, slow day, they arrived at the last way station of Kar Vestul. Smaller than the previous one, they met the way station keepers, Ol’ Jaes Mason and his wife Mildreg. They provided cheap, but good food, stews mostly from local game and thick slabs of rye bread and ale. They treated the soldiers in the caravan with great respect. Fangrik approached the watcher, and sought if he could do with a child labourer… (Fangrik – “Do you need children? To clean and muck stables?”). Vathra tried to mind-read/talk to the seeming leader of The Black Banners, but Helm Gravesend seemed to take being poked in the mind as an insult… Ash and Squirrel again tried to engage the children, but they seemed grumpy and not very accepting of their new foster parents yet… At least this time they didn’t try to poke Clinkton too much. The group rested in peace in their assigned space.
Shorn 28th, 1048 TR : Frost was on everything in the o morning, and the caravan got another lat start, but made good time across the trail. Ice could be seen floating past in the Paradise River to the south. Squirrel spent much of the day harrying about for dried flowers and leaves, quietly stuffing Helm’s helmet back with grasses and flowers; his companions seemed to notice, but said nothing. By mid-day, the group reached a magnificent stone bridge crossing the river to the south, while the trade road continued off to the north into The Trackless Heights towards Westwind – The Emerald Realm. The Black Banners left the caravan here, travelling north towards the pass, with nary a farewell or wave. The caravan crossed the bridge and headed on east.
The final few miles were anxious, and the sight of The Keep ahead seemed welcoming. A narrow trail traveled serpentine up the mountainside, with the roar of the waterfalls below The Keep thundering in their ears. Above the three mighty falls, stood the mist-enshrouded expanse of The Keep, a fortress-town built on a sheer rocky spire in the midst of the river. A narrow drawbridge reached across to the southern side of the river, allowing access, and beckoning visitors to enter. Towers dot the walls of the fortress, with the crimson and white of The Lynx Legion visible against the dark grey of the stonework even from the distance of about a mile. The group had reached The Keep, and the end of their journey, at last…