Bloodright : Rise of the Border Princes

Stonefist

“Take a look at a castle. Any castle. Now break down the key elements that make it a castle. They haven’t changed in a thousand years. 1: Location. A site on high ground that commands the territory as far as the eye can see. 2: Protection. Big walls, walls strong enough to withstand a frontal attack. 3: A garrison. Men who are trained and willing to kill. 4: A flag. You tell your men you are soldiers and that’s your flag. You tell them nobody takes our flag. And you raise that flag so it flies high where everyone can see it. Now you’ve got yourself a castle. The only difference between this castle and all the rest is that they were built to keep people out. This castle is built to keep people in.”

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Beyond the Gate of Winter
“The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”

“The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck.”

1st of Hammer, 1049 TR : Leaving behind a noble lord of the elven tribe bound to The Phooka, the group slowly wound their treasure- and supply-laden caravan of horses through the Gate of Winter, single-file.

Beyond the Gate of Winter, the group encountered a snowy, hard-blowing storm across a high mountain valley, somewhere south and east of The Trackless Heights. Located just north of a broad forest vale, the stone archway faced a rugged series of stonelands. Far to the north, west and south lay a series of harsh snowy mountains, while east were the vast stretches of a thick pine forest. Off to the south-west could be seen, however, a pass rising into the vastness beyond.

Making camp around the portal, the group placed their horse-lines inside the woods, and sent Fangrik off to investigate the nearby terrain. He returned a couple hours into darkness, with a report of ruined warmachines, bits of rusted weapons and bones to be found everywhere; they were at the site of a great battle fought many centuries ago. The group settled down, and placed guards.

Less than an hour later, a pair of slavering trolls burst into the horse-lines trying to take down a meal. They were attacked, but the PCs found they ignored most wounds, healing almost as soon as they took damage. Eventually Lord Taumus of House Daure discovered the value of his fire spells, and once bloodied, the starving trolls turned and ran. Fangrik loped after one, however, and slew it, and the group burned the corpse with torches, slaying it utterly.

2nd of Hammer, 1049 TR : Travelling up into the pass to the south-west, the group soon encountered a pair of stone giants playing “catch” with immense boulders. Content Not Found: kuck spoke with them in Giant, and the group quickly became friendly enough with them, by sharing food and drink. Gromm and Islander were young, but had chosen to leave their homes deep in the Trackless Heights, searching for a place to call their own. They gave directions to the nearest human community, the Lordship of Frisia, located some three days journey south through the pass.

4th of Hammer, 1049 TR : After another couple days of travel along the faint trail leading over the pass, the group camped over-looking an unknown forested valley. Snow continued to fall., and the weather remained harsh, with icy winds blowing up from the south-east.

Once more, during the night, a pack of four trolls tried to slip into the camp to get some horses, but Fangrik sniffed them out. Fireballs, Burning Hands and hard driven melee assaults proved enough to bloody three and chase them away, while one fell to the axes, spears and guns of the players. While the corpses burned, the group decided to hunt the others down, and forestall any other nightly attacks (plus the chance of loot).

Tracking them to their cave lair, they found a rudely appointed place with leaf and hide beds, and smelling of carrion. The group continued to employ fiery attacks, and carefully cornered each one, slaughtering the lot and burning their corpses with flames. It was noted that the trolls all seemed unusually gaunt and starving. Located in a large trunk half-buried by debris, they found a mass of gold and platinum coins, and an unknown potion bottle. The group returned to their camp and their servants, and slept quietly the rest of the night.

5th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Another exhausting day of travel, highlighted by crossing the main pass around mid-day, the Fierce Creatures managed to find their first real site of civilization, the town of Frisia. Nestled on a ridge just below the pass, but above a vast swath of pine woodlands, the town’s smell of woods smoke and flickering fires in the fading daylight were so welcoming.

Approaching across the frozen moat, they encountered a pair of guards at the gate who asked their business. Lord Taumus presented their charter, explaining he was seeking lodging for the night and trade with the town’s craftsmen. The guard looked over the charter, and quickly organized an escort to the lord’s keep, taking them directly there.

They soon met with the local lord in his own hall, one Lord Niklas Friger, and his retinue, including the enigmatic Milkan Federman, his advisor and court mage. The group were warmly welcomed, fed, and given lodging in his hall for as long as they might need. In particular, he related to them the trip they might need to claim their holdings at Stonefist – Gateway to The Mark. He mentioned a tradepost two days south, at Fort Vakhund, followed by a three day trip west to Tir Feldar. Beyond, they were informed, lay the villages of Havenford and Fellwater, and then numerous small thorps and travel inns until, seven days later, you could reach Pelargir – City of Ghosts, capital of Cygnus – The Swan Kingdom along the Darkwine River.

6th of Hammer, 1049 TR : The group gathered supplies in the early morning, and then left Frisia early enough to get a good start on the trip south. Numerous woodsmen were encountered, heading along the road before travelling into the woodlands, but the trip proved quiet.

7th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Arriving in the dark, dragging their carts and string of horses through the snow, the PCs managed to reach Vakhund. The trade site was open, and after paying a small fee (4 gps!), they were given a clay token stamped with the date, showing the payment was complete. The group chose a spot “less filthy” than most, and arrayed their horses and carts around their camp.

Eventually, another caravan arrived from the west, coming in late, but they were known to the guards at the tower, and after some talking, settled in for the night. Squirrel tried to sneak close, but wasn’t able to hear much beyond casual talking about happenings to the south. Just as the PCs put down their heads, a shadowy figure appeared at the edge of their firelight, revealed to be a gray-skinned, pale goblin, named Mortzva. After quick introductions, (and food!), they spoke with Mortzva about their travels, and he sagely warned them against hunting trolls. He told rumors of “…fire demons raiding Tir Feldar on Nightmares!”, but the group dismissed this fact as fancy. He also claimed a local band of orcs were raiding the area, known as “The Swift Axes”. The group then settled in.

Suddenly, Fangrik noticed Mortzva sit upright, nose and ears twitching. He looked at Fangrik with alarm, and then scampered into darkness, with a whisper of “Ocrses Comes!”. Suddenly, two bands of orcs broke into the clearing, one aiming towards the caravan, while another charged into the players. A sudden fireball from Lord Taumus slew many, and a sharp skirmish ensued, with the slow death of the raiders. Taumus noticed human archers among the raiding orcs, who quickly slipped into the darkness. Among the other caravan, the attackers broke away suddenly, and when the PCs arrived, they found the caravan master, one Master Rothammer dying from a poisoned wound, which no one was able to help stop. They had taken his daughter.

The players quickly found that the caravan was headed to Frisia where the master’s daughter was to marry a local merchant’s son, securing an important trade deal, and binding two important merchant families. The group spoke briefly with Sir Stiegler Stalwart, the local noble lord, and when they expressed an interest in pursueing the raiders, he promised to look after the group’s servants and stock for three days, before he would send them back towards Firsia.

The group set-out almost immediately, leaving Squirrel, Aaron and Kruck behind to watch the groups belongings, while Fangrik sniffed after them, leading Ash and Lord Taumus in pursuit. They travelled quickly (at least as fast as Cog would let them) along the frozen stream, that led back deeply into the woodlands for several hours. Eventually they reached Mejketek, close on the heels of the orc raiders.

Approaching the three goblins in heavy furs on watch, the group asked after the orc raiding band, and was ushered in to see the great goblin chief of the Mudroots, Cherktrag. After concluding the PCs would pay to follow after the orcs, the old maester summoned a pair of large mammoth tusks, and proceeded to (for a handful of copper and silver coins) summon a ritual linked portal.

8th of Hammer, 1049 TR : As dawn was breaking, the group watched a portal appear between the tusks, and the three slipped inside. Beyond was another snowy forest glade, and the portal had opened between the massive skeletal remains of a mammoth. As though keeping watch over the portal, its bleak bones were festooned with tied ribbons of cloth and feathers. The tusks provided the gateway into the rest of the world. Beyond, a trail led off into the forest.

Following the only trail they saw, the group quickly entered another clearing, this one dominated by a massive earthen, snow-covered mound with a central pillar of raw stone. On either side were smaller stone barrows, and beyond lay a crude wooden building with a mud and stone chimney. On the far left of the mound, lay a barred prison wagon, its wheels removed and placed on stone blocks. Several guards kept watch on the opening to the large earthen mound, eyeing the party.

Fangrik charged to the attack, the others following suit. With more orc warriors appearing from the barracks (?) building, along with a horde of skeletons from the left-hand barrow, and then soon more orcs and leader types from the other barrows, the group was quickly swarmed and overwhelmed. Try as they might, they could not get away. Eventually, Ash turned invisible and slipped away to the west, while Fangrik managed to lope off into the eastern forest. Taumus fell to orcish mangs, and was captured. Collectively, the group was eating their carefully hoarded Norish Apples at an incredible rate, and one of them saved Taumus’ life, bringing him back from near death to unconciousness.

Fangrik and Ash wandered the forest, trying to find each otehr, but failed, with Fangrik fidning his lone status disconcerting. He is, after all, a pack animal.. Eventually, Fangrik stole as close to the barracks as possible, spying within. He noted Taumus was being kept in the prison wagon along with an older couple and a dwarf, chained to the bars. Within the barracks, he found a single room filled with orcs, goblin servants, and a couple human archers. They were eating and drinking and gaming over handfuls of copper coins. Beyond, a large room held what appeared to be oxen. One side had a collection of trade goods. and ale.

By midday, Ash and Fangrik found one another again, and planned a raid to free Taumas and the others. They noted which orc bore the warning horn that seemed to summon the skeletons, and using the cover of the prison, they crept close to the three guards. Talking quietly toa bound and gagged Taumas, they slipped underneath the prison wagon, and while Ash fiddled with the lock, Fangrik charged the three guards to cover him.

They cut down the horn-orc, but he still managed to get a call out, summoning more orcs and the skeletons from the closer barrow.He got the door open, and went directly to Taumas, tossing the old woman a knife to cut his bonds and then moved to unchain the dwarf. Taumas slipped out, casting his few remaining powers to help keep the guards at bay, while more skeletons climbed out of the one barrow to join the fray. The dwarf quickly tossed the old man on his back and ran for the forest, followed by Ash. While Fangrik tossed the old woman on his back, Taumas cast one last spell and then the group ran fro the forest’s edge. Their enemies did not follow them. Prison-Break successful!

9th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Taking a long rest, the group made a pitiful camp off the east of the bandit’s holding, sharing their food and Norish Apples liberally. The prisoners introduced themselves as Marriana Applecross and her husband Ulrich Applecross. The dwarf was Nilfur the Bold. Needing rest afer their long ordeal, they camped for most of the day, healing wounds and planning on how to proceed.

That night, the group planned to steal the horn from the guards before they could warn the camp, with Ash proving his skills by stealing Fangrik’s own spear, right from his hands before he realized it. It was like magic, apparently. Endure Elements was cast on the prisoners and players to keep them warm despite a lack of blankets and real winter clothing. The older couple remained behind, while Nilfur said he would see about foraging for some berries or something to help.

The three adventurers slipped close to the three guards, and Ash quietly managed to grab the Horn from the guard holding it, before he noticed. A grand melee ensued, wth all three warriors falling to the player’s spears. Moving inside the larger of the mounds, they found a charnel house, and fought a couple more guards and a shaman, later identified as “Pejznog”. The fight was brief, but fierce, culminating in a fight over the bound person of Evanna RotHammer, the young lady they had intended to rescue all along.

Looting the chambers, they recovered an assortment of looted coins and jewellery, but little else. Their young captive revealed that the orc “chief” was actually a shaman, and the one they’d just slain was known as “The Flayer”, or his assistant.

The group returned back to their small camp, now laden with some supplies and blankets, and soon came upon a group of seven orcs holding the old senior coupe hostage, readying them to become a meal. The group charged, and in the opening round, Nilfur came charging from the woods brandishing a heavy club to assist the PCs. The fight proved relatively quick, wiht two trying to flee, but they were hunted down by Fangrik and slain.

Nilfur armed himself with orcish armor and weapons, while the group passed-out supplies and made camp. They soon returned back to the bandit’s camp, entering the small barrow where they knew the chief laired, and slipping down into its depths, past the door and into a series of cleared catacombs, now turned into a living quarters. They quickly cornered a pair of guards in a narrow chamber, and making short work of them, proceeded to killing the chief himself, Gnarg. In addition to several scrolls written in Giant, they recovered a Vicious Spear +2 wielded by the chief, and they secured another cache of supplies, including a large number of polearms, some gems and jewellery and a large collection of Arcane components for ritual casting (1500 gps worth!). In one small chamber was a permanent Linked Portal, but the group knew neither where it went nor had the means to activate it…

Returning to the barracks behind the main mound, they barged in, and discovered it was more like a mercenary tavern, run by a “retired” orc bandit and his companions, named Dzeegle. After some coins got them some roast pig and ale, the group returned to their camp, gathered their followers, and made their way back to the old chief’s lair, where they reted in relative security underground.

10th of Hammer, 1049 TR : After a peaceful night, the group discussed their options. Deciding to get more information, the group used Taumas’ Comprehend Languages ritual, and deciphered the scrolls. One was a Ritual – Raise Dead, while the other was Ritual – Linked Portal. Both scrolls could be employed as books, but were written in giant and slightly above the player’s levels. The other was a letter written in Giant that was from one Vistoli to Pjznog, talking about their communal successes in raising undead forces in The Master‘s name. It discussed, in a formal manner, the various herbs and materials recently found useful (wherein Nightshade featured prominently), and related _Vistoli’s_ efforts in creating a “Shield” ritual.

After Taumas managed to stop choking on his tea, the group realized this might be the same “Master” they’d encountered on the other side of the mountains…

From there, the group investigated the portal link at the mammoth, where they came in, and then returned to the barracks. The denizens of “Dzeegle’s ignored them, mostly concerned with their gambling and drinking. Dzeelge himself was approached and informed of the recent demise of the local “landlords”. They all seemed rather uninterested. They discussed where they were, exactly, discovering they were i something called “The Tassel Forest”, about four day’s ox-wain journey north-west of Frisia. Yes, that Frisia.

Eventually, they managed to negotiate buying the prison wagon, some supplies to turn it into a sledge, and a pair of oxen for two platinum coins. Fangrik gave them a handful of coins for some blankets and ale to assist their followers in their trip. They spent the remaining day turning the wagon into a sledge with pine runners, and rested that night in the chief’s lair, once again.

11th – 14th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Travel through the forest was hard, but uneventful, amidst the constantly falling snow. By the 14th, they reached Frisia, and again spent the night in the local lord’s hall, reunited with their servants and friends. Apparently, Kruck had grown weary of waiting, and had chosen to wander east, looking for clues about his kin. He promised he would return when he had some answers… They expained the destruction of the orcs in the northern woods, and were rewarded with a scroll from the Frisian Content Not Found: mangai for 100 gps in local services and supplies for destroying The Swift Axes.

15th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Using their reward, they resupplied and stocked-up in foodstuffs, blankets and other goods, adding to the pile of supplies they had on the sledge. Nilfur offered to stay as a guard, and the old couple promised to help cook and do basic chores for the band until the adventurers claimed their landhold at Stonefist – Gateway to The Mark. The group then set forth down the trail they had come previously, several followers and an oxen sledge richer.

16th – 17th of Hammer, 1049 TR : The trip had been uneventful, with no traffic due to deepening snows. Despite the danger, they encountered a deer herd around noon of the 17th, and Fangrik returned with a buck for dinner that night.

Reaching Vakhund again, they managed to convince the guards they were who they said they were, paying an additional 13 sp for the ox-wain and other passengers. Their camp was cold, but uneventful.

18th of Hammer, 1049 TR : Travelling on across the Treecut Creek and its toll bridge, they made good time making camp without incident. That evening they met Mortzva again, who talked about the dangers in Tir Feldar, and pleaded ignorance regarding “The Master”, but cryptically stated that sometimes it was best not to look too deeply or ask too many questions… He happily shared their venison and made pleasant small-talk about the weather, eventually being shown Fangrik’s new spear, and offering to “decorate it” with some goods from his pack for a small fee. Fangrik bought various feathers, beads, and colorful leather strips for a handful of coins, while Ash bought the goblin’s _Potion of Healing. It proved to be a restful, dreamless night.

19th of Hammer, 1049 TR : The group managed to travel without incident, passing traces of a herd of elk. The group contemplated how many deer and other wildlife were travelling from the mountain heights, searching for food.

20th of Hammer, 1049 TR : The trip to Tir Feldar finally ended as the sun was descending into the distant mountains over Pelargir. The small village seemed smoky with fires from its stone hearths, and was surrounded by snow-covered terraced fields of grapes and numerous stone-marked pastures for its local goat herds.

A series of screams reached the ears of the party, revealing trouble ahead. About a mile off, they saw a woman come running from the broken western gates, followed promptly by a horseman, wreathed in flames and riding a white-glowing black horse with a skull for a head. The beast rode down the woman, lancing her, and then wheeled and rode back into the village. Leaving the servants and wagons behind, Ash and Taumas dismounted and tried to help the woman from death’s door, while Fangrik loped into the village. Passing into the center of town, he found things broken-up, screams and sobs from various houses, and five women tied by their hair to the central well. In the distance, about a dozen flaming figures could be seen riding hard for the eastern pass up The Howling. Their speed was immense (24"!), and they quickly rode out of site.

While the others entered the village, and began taking in the situation, Fangrik cut the women from the well, and asked what was going on. “It’s The Ghost Riders, my lords… please don’t eat me…”. The group managed to get the attention of Dierdrui MacFeldar, who brought them to the side of her dying father. Having taken a wound early in the bandit’s raids, in early Echos, it had gone septic and was poisoned. There proved to be nothing the adventurers could do (a frelling 1 – critical failure on a Healing Check), but they made him comfortable, and gathering their servants, left for a night in the inn to rest.

21st of Hammer, 1049 TR : The group awoke the sounds of a loud clamour and the inn abuzz with word of Reeve Fionn’s death last night. Some glanced at the adventurer’s with fear, but none said anything openly. After breaking their fast on cold roasts and tea, they began to plan for the following night’s attack.

Fangrik scouted off towards The Howling, but found no tracks of any kind, hinting the skeleton horses rode above the ground. Taumuas noted they raiders didn’t leave any melted snow behind, hinting their flames weren’t real, and they realized demons wandering into town every other night to tie up people, take some away and torture the others was odd demon behaviour. After talking to the others about the bandits, particularly to _Diendrui after her father’s death, they learned that the radiers only killed people who fought back, and had long since slaughtered the town’s militia and almost anyone who had the desire to fight. Active resistance to the threat was limited to barricading themselves in their homes and repairing the gates every so often. The raiders took whatever they wanted; foodstuffs, ale, textiles, and sometimes, maidens from the houses they robbed. They came almost every other night…

Plans were made. It was decided to use one of Ash’s Magic Circle rituals to seal the western gate, and bottle them with an ambush at the eastern one. Discovering exactly what they were was difficult, but Taumas’ superior knowledge of undead hinted that making the circle impervious to “Natural” creatures probably covered everything. The group spent a couple hours preparing for the fight, and made sure their followers were safely secured in the inn.

Hours passed, and eventually when the sun began to go down, sending its light across the western mountains, a group of riders quickly approached from The Howling, using their “floating” ability, and leaving a trail of snow behind them. As they approached the village, they split into two groups, probably to best to hem their prey in, by entering through both gates. The group on the west side approached the gate carefully, gabbling back to each other in vaguely Goblin speech. The group noticed the “falmes” were orange cloaks and brightly colored feathers and cloth that waved and moved with the movement of the horses, making it seem like they were on fire.

As they entered the village gate, they dropped a ram being held by the two front riders, and rode forward with some degree of caution. The group leapt out and attacked them with spear and spell, blowing their Horn of the Horde, which confused the skeleton horses severely. Dropping a fireball and opening a Fountain of Fire among them, they quickly chewed into their ranks, taking out first one rider, and then severely wounding and slaying the leader in their midst. As their riders fell from the saddles, each mount ran back to The-howling, abandoning the battle. With all three remaining riders aflame (for real), and bloodied, they fled back after the riderless horses. To the east, they tried bashing in the warded area with their own ram, but quickly abandoned the ram and the idea, and fled back up the valley.

The adventurers stripped off the armor and weapons of the leader and his warrior, and revealed to the local villagers that the “fire demons” were just cleverly disguised hobgoblin warriors. Lord Taumas offered the weapons and armor of the fallen to whomever wished to take up the mantle of a warrior and bring the fight to the bandits… Silently, everyone stared down at the ground, weeks of desperate fighting having battered the spine from them. Eventually, his rousing speech led one lone young man to take up the fallen troopers weapons and armor, and the local militia now had a single recruit…

The village gathered together at the inn for a night of celebration, each one thanking the PCs for tehir efforts. But the Fierce Creatures knew this might only be a lull before the full might of these bandits came down upon the adventurers and the village like a Hammer. They needed a plan…

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Into the Feywild

““Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling and luring…”

Wherein the adventurers journey to a realm of the Feywild, protected by The Phooka, an ancient Fae and Guardian of his own Realm of the Feywild. The true origins of The Panoply of Narwen are revealed, and an opportunity to enter the northern wilderness of Cygnus – The Swan Kingdom, bypassing the snowy passes of The Beast Shards is granted.

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The Panoply of Narwen
"Keys to the Feywild, Keys to Danger and Wealth"

27th of Uktar, 1048 TR, Late Evening : The mystery surrounding Brightflame was an unanswered question, and the group discussed their knowledge of the issue. They realized, they had never pursued the Maid Thelka, and what she might know of the issue. The group visited The Broken Hilt Tavern, and after meeting with the patron of the place, managed to bribe their way into getting her exclusively to themselves for the evening. Over honey mead and fine wine, she answered their questions, and laid out what little she knew.

Her grand-mother, the Widow Parikin was once married to a great local ranger, by the name of Corvan. In addition to the lost secret of harvesting Norish Apple, he was said to have access to teh Feywild, and was on good terms with the elves. They both shared ancient tales of the elves and other beings with her, and chief among them was the tale of The Panoply of Narwen.

Narwen, it seems, was a great Druid from a forgotten Druidic Circle (its name lost to history). He was said to have great power and riches, and chief among them was his “Panoply”, a collection of relics and lore that brought him strength. These relics were said to be tied to the ancient elements, and acted, in some fashion, as a key to his realm of power. It was believed, this was in the Feywild. She claimed, according to her grand-mother, that the sword, Brightflame was a key to finding the Panoply, gathering them, and then using them to access the Feywild and its many riches hidden there.

Suspecting the sword and Panpoly were somehow tied to the blue flame seen in the Spirit of the Wood Inn, the group decided to investigate the ruins and see what they could do to collect the relics. They selected supplies, and planned to leave on the morrow.

28th of Uktar : Travelling through the snows of the deep woodlands south of Paradise River, the group reached the ruins of the Spirit of the Wood Inn. Searching the place, they cleaned the area around the flames, and Ash boldly presented his blade, Brightflame to the great bronze bowl of blue flames. The Whisp appeared, and after a soft, sigh, disappeared and reappeared next to the door. The group gathered and followed, where it disappeared and reappeared again outside down a path. Following the Whisp off into the forest, they eventually, after some hours reached a strange glade.

The spot was an open forest clearing, though the hold of Winter was broken here, with everything rimed in frost, but the deep snow kept at bay. It was dominated by a crude stone altar built as a dolmen – a stone slab supported at either end by smaller stones in its center. It was flanked by two rough stone monoliths, with whorls and pictures chiseled into its surface in spiral patterns. The alter and entire glade near it, was over-grown with a thick growth of vines and tree-roots. Just beyond the altar, lay a massive stump, cleaved and hewn as though once having been a massive ancient pine tree, broken-off above its roots.

Approaching the altar, they were swiftly surprised as a large viny growth rose from the area and the mound of vegetation began to try and engulf the characters, one-by-one, while it sprouted little thorny growths, some spewing lightning, and others shooting poisonous barbs. The group, using fire and thunder attacks did extensive damage to the creatures, eventually hewing them apart and burning the growth to charred timbers.

Fangrik and Kruck dug about in the ashes around the altar, finding nothing of note, while Taumus and Ash searched the altar and flanking menhirs. The two scholars found the pictograms to be runes of some sort, ad using their ancient knowledge of Draconic, translated into a series of poems, believed to be the locations of the other relics of the Panoply.

Two miles towards the sun’s first fires, the earth’s embrace will still its ire.
A league to the south in sacred mother’s home, the royal water is returned to its own.
Southeast four miles the image flies, atop forest giant in azure skies.
Lofty stone reaching higher, holds in its grasp the sacred fire.
Six miles and some at forest’s heart, where name and namesake no longer part.

The group puzzled over these riddles, and examining their map, decided they were direct guides to the artifacts. They decided to camp around the tree stump for the night, and held a “cold-camp”, watching for intruders or Whisps.

29th of Uktar : Heading east, they broke camp searching for the first of the riddles, and found the small cave burrowed into a steep embankment, right where they expected it to be. Inside, they found the slaughtered, frozen corpse of a cave bear, and behind it, a small stone shelf holding an open wooden coffer meant to hold a wand… now empty. The Wand of Earth’s Ire was missing. Despair struck the group, as they realized they might have waited too long. They searched and found tracks of four horses, and several booted feet, one of which was small and booted.

They followed the third clue, which they felt was closest according to their maps, and quickly found themselves in a large stand of older growth forest, with tall cedars. Carried on the breeze, a strange thumping sound was heard, and it led to a massive, hollowed cedar tree towering above the other trees nearby. A truely massive forest giant, its hollow center was obvious, and among the lofty branches at its height, was a heavy leather case, swaying in the wind and thumping on the hollow tree.

Fangrik quickly scampered up the cedar’s side and noticed there was something tracking him from inside the tree. He reached the scroll case, and grabbed it to be confronted by a large insect-like creature that tried to eat him. After attempts to lay eggs in him and tear off pieces of his flesh, it took a couple swift spear thrusts to the noggin, and fell off the tree to its death. Fangrik returned to the ground and opened the case to reveal the Codex of the Firmament, which was given to Aaron to take care of.

Heading back to the Druid Grove, the group planned to re-think the 4th clue from the central location. Along the way, they tripped over an ambush of half-a-dozen hunting goblins, though only one escaped, the others were slaughtered. The group eventually reached the grove and thinking through the fact the clue had no directions or distance, they decided it must be here somewhere. Fangrik climbed up to the top of the right menhir and, sure enough, in a hidden niche at the top lay the Breastplate of Sacred Fire, which Kruck claimed.

The group decided to sleep , and camped back at the forest stump again…

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The Master Behind the Maze
"There is always two, the student, and the Master..."

23rd of Uktar, 1048 TR : The group convened with Drew the Avaricious, getting him to hawk there few treasures, and arranged to have their rooms and warehouse slot for another ten-day. They began interrogating Lady Alimira of Blackhill, finding-out her past, and any reasons why she had been kidnapped, and by whom. She wasn’t much help, but the group concluded that she had been valuable enough that the kidnappers had insisted she not be harmed… and getting goblins not to eat her or otherwise do anything to her meant they were highly motivated by someone not to…

Then the group realized something. The goblins from The Monastery of Magos had only had a few handfuls of copper coins among them, but also had a cache of silver nuggets in their possession. The only other silver nuggets they’d found, were being mined by the goblins in the “Goblin King’s Mine”… Someone had been paying-off the “Monastery Goblins” with silver from the “Goblin King”… Perhaps the rumored “Master” was, in fact, real…

While the rest busied themselves with various personal tasks, Ash Cogward and Fangrik decided to go to Quarrytown and see what rumors they might uncover. They wandered about, and eventually settled near the fire in the central tavern they’d visited before. As night grew dark, they listened about for any rumors, hearing about the magical properties of the local baker’s bread (drugged?!?), and the mystical man who lives high on the Quarry’s heights, one Goazaar. SOme claimed he was a mage, others a priest of Magos, the God of Magic.

The pair then clambered up to Goazaar’s shack high on the side of the quarry, and found the old man blowing smoke-rings on his veranda, despite the cold. After a few passing insults, (apparently he finds it insulting everyone thinks him both a mage and a priest… “I mean, can’t an old man just enjoy the stars at night without being labelled a wizard or some such”…) they settled into a casual comradeship, and the pair were able to get a promise from him to help answer some of their questions, if they would get the local courtesan’s free of their contracts from their “master”…

The pair returned to Quarrytown and headed straight to the Courtesan’s Guild’s tent, where they paid 1 gp each for the privelege of a lady’s companionship… “appropriate” to their tastes. Larkka, a tall petite blond took Ash, and Tokanu, a buxom brunette to Fangrik, each into their private chambers. Fangrik tried to get his girl to talk, but she was insistent upon having a go at him, so he wrestled her into her sheets, tying her up and gagging her. Taking her into Ash’s chamber, he found his attempts less than successful, with Ash helpless, having been wrestled into a compromising position, while Larkka had her way with him. After waiting for the two to finish, he Fangrik smuggled Tokanu outside and had her point-out “The Master’s” tent, meaning Rikar the Raven. She warned that they’d never get close to him, since he always escaped every attempt on his life, having his “Ravens” sacrifice themselves to get him away…

24th of Uktar : Letting the girls go, they returned from Quarrytown, stopping long enough to acquire some rolls from the bakery, just as it was opening, and slept a few hours in The Palisade before returning back to The Keep.

With the dawn, the group met again in The Inn of the Prancing Pegasus, and compared notes. They decided teh best way to keep Alimira safe was to hide her “in plain sight”, keeping her as though she were just another of Lord Taumus of House Daure‘s servants. They rented a couple cheap apartments along the southern castle wall of the Outer Bailey in The Keep, since it would save money, and moved the girls into it. They gathered some supplies (along with a thick winter coat for Alimira), and left the girls, under _Alimira’s_ care, a pouch of coins for incidental expenses (21 gp, 20 sp and 40 cp). The group made preparations to return back to the site of the orc ambush, since, it seemed, this was possibly the back entrance to the Goblin King’s Mines they’d looked for but never found.

25th of Uktar : Despite the hard, blowing storm outside, the group headed back up the trail into the mountains above Quarrytown, looking for the site marked on their map with a mining symbol, or, at least, the pile of orc corpses they’d left by the roadside. At the site of the frozen corpses (now half-buried with snow and solid as rocks), they left the trail, and headed into the forest.

Up the trail they found an old mine-head, with tumbled shacks, and a guard watching just inside the open mine beyond. Fangrik snuck up along the mountainside, and just as he thought he was being sneaky, heard Ash and Taumus just behind him, which, of course, alarmed the guard. He shrieked a warning about there being “…thirty intruder elves and an elephant!”, and a battle began. After promptly removing the guard at the entrance, the group found a winding cave entrance shorn with timbers, that opened into a large cave organized into a camp. In addition to various supplies and a warm fire with supplies of firewood, they found a pair of horses, about a dozen bandits and a mage. The cave was sealed by a large porticullis.

While Fangrik struggled with the gate, eventually performing a heroic effort to open it (a 20!, and assisted by Squirrel, who also got a 20!), Kruck, Aaron Fisher and the others slipped into the chamber and laid into them with spells and blades. Ash disabled the portcullis open with his thievery skills and the battle turned very strongly against the bandits, despite their apparent skill at arms. Indeed, during the fight, they showed great skill and co-ordination in their defenses, with halbardiers guarding the archers and mage, while a leader-type warrior waded into the fray with zeal.

Finally, their forces being taken apart by spells and ranged attacks, the mage and a couple of his followers tried to employ a floating elevator platform to slip down into a lower cavern. Fagrik, in a brave display of acrobatic prowess, leaped over one of the pack horses, and landed next to the fleeing troop, taking one archer with his spear. As they dropped into the pit, he scaled down the chain easily, skewering the mage and crouching over the body, frightening all of the survivors. Taumus blasted one archer from the pit’s rim into charcoal, and by the time it reached the bottom, the survivors had surrendered. Fangrik noted a pallet along one wall of the chamber, sitting on a stone shelf to the north, along with a collection of supplies. Several other passages led from the chamber. He gathered the bodies onto the platform, and with Kruck’s help managed to get the platform pulled back up into the upper cave.

The group sealed-off the platform mechanism, tied-up the prisoners, and piled the bodies outside in the snow. They secured the belongings of the dead (including 118 sp, 12gp and various weapons and armor), and piled them next to the other supplies in the chamber, and tied-off both horses, intending to use them to take these valuables back down the mountain. Then the group settled into a lengthy interrogation of the prisoners.

The survivors (one archer and a pair of halbardiers), claimed to be soldiers from Cygnus – The Swan Kingdom, who were under orders from the now-dead mage to watch Frandor’s Keep and its trade for some purpose they weren’t privy to. They had come to this cave, following the mage, slaughtered a half-dozen orcs in the cave, and dumped their bodies down into the pit. It seemed the mage had been meeting with someone (or something) down below, and had been camping here ever since. Something about their stories, however, did not seem right. They were lying about one aspect of their story, but the group couldn’t tell which. The group secured them tightly and setting a guard, slept.

26th of Uktar : Taking a careful extra time (and thievery check), Ash made certain the prisoners were tied tightly together, and then the group left Squirrel to keep an eye over them. The group then gathered aboard the platform, and travelled back down into the lower caves. They found a large open cave that had evidence of mining work. Along the north was a stone shelf with an old pallet, and several collected supplies in a bundle. The entire floor of the cave was covered in milky water about an inch deep. The roof was strewn with glittery pockets of gold that Ash quickly determined to be iron pyrite.

Gathering the supplies and spreading the valuables among the group (oil, lantern, sacks, rope and a bunch of relatively new miner’s picks), they started moving methodically through the deeper mining tunnels, finding evidence of extensive mining in pockets. Eventually they uncovered a chamber holding six skeletons armed and standing, looking in all directions. Fangrik approached, and from among them a black cloud appeared, slowly moving towards him, before forming into the shape of a large humanoid monster with black skin and bearing a massive rusted iron morningstar. They identified it as an Nighthaunt Oni. It breathed on him, stunning him. Combat ensued.

In the fight, a series of sharp strikes against the orc skeletons and the massive black figure that was able to stun them with its vaporous breathing, and oddly dreamlike qualities. Eventually the skeletons were all defeated, and the black figure fled, turning into black vapour before slipping away down a small, narrow tunnel deep in the mines… the group believed they had met, The Master. Aaron performed last rights on the orc skeletons (using Elvish traditions…).

Searching the remaining mine tunnels after a brief rest, they slipped back out of the mines, gathered their supplies in the upper caves, and took the rest of teh day to sleep and discuss other options.

27th of Uktar : Returning down the mountain, they brought the prisoners to the attention of the Captain of Storm Tower, where they had to explain why the men were tied-up. Fangrik reminded Taumus to keep it simple, which helped speed the process. They were given writs for 10 sp for each as a bounty. They returned back to teir apartments, checked on the girls and spent the night in the Inn of the Prancing Pegasus, feasting and taking their rest in warmth and good company.

Discussing their options, they contacted Drew to get some money on the weapons and armor they’d collected, though he convinced them to keep the two horses at least until Spring, since they were free to maintain, and the group would get good money for them then, if they didn’t want them anymore, since caravans and mercs would likely be looking for new mounts.

They also thought about the other question on their minds… what about Brightflame?

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Monastery of Magos
"Pray for your souls..."

14th of Uktar, 1048 TR : Taking several days rest, the group was rewarded with several sacks of coins by Drew the Avaricious, who hawked the various goods the group had collected during their search of the Mines of the Goblin King. They spend the day talking, resting and drinking.

15th of Uktar : The group decided to head into Quarrytown, looking for clues and exploring this community they have not yet visited. They get “dressed-down”, wearing various “common” garb.

They discover a small community of various shops and homes built against the walls of the old quarry, including a leather worker’s, a smith’s and even a scrivner’s. The Scribe Fekur is rather friendly, and relates some information about the locals. Th Bakery proves to be rather bad quality, but popular, and the same with the smithy. There is an open-air tavern under a snow-covered tent, where the patrons nurse their watery ales and stay close to the central fire. After several hours spent trying to stay warm, musicians arrive and by nightfall the entire village has arrived to celebrate. Soon, with the ale flowing, the group hears a number of rumors and the local courtesans appear, making their way through the crowd.

Kruck takes an interest in them, and eventually parts company with the group for a “discussion” between two of the ladies back in their tent, located high along the quarry’s edge. Meanwhile the group learns a little about Rikar the Raven, that he is likely more than a simple bandit-chief. Rumors hint he might be a former soldier, since his organization and ambushes are particularly well-planned and executed. They also hear the rumor that Rikar is likely a pseudo-name… The group spends the night curled in the tavern tent along with many other patrons, and makes their way back to The Keep in the morning when the gates open. So does Kruck.

16th of Uktar : The group discusses options, and decided to act on rumors of undead to be located at The Monastery of Magos. They gathered supplies and prepared for another expedition. They were unable to find Holy Water among the shrines in The Keep. Examining their map, they decided to spend some days at Spirit of the Wood Inn, using it as a base camp to build a raft and get across the Paradise River, and visit the Monastery.

17th of Uktar : The group travelled back along the eastern trade road to Cygnus – The Swan Kingdom, and visited the Spirit of the Wood Inn. They searched the place quickly, and concentrated on clearing the area around the hearth and the blue flame. Ash Cogward, intrigued by the flames, placed Brightflame into the blue fire… activating as a fire elemental. During the resulting scuffle, Kruck brutally shoved it back into the hearth, making it dissipate. Unmoved, Ash once more placed his sword into the fire, turning it back into a flame elemental. The second skirmish went bad. Flames burst out everywhere, though the inn did not catch fire… Eventually, the group were able to defeat it, whereupon it broke into five separate blue The Whisps, which flew back to the hearth, and re-ignited the blue flame.

Clearing a spot nearby, they camped for the night to rest. During the night, The Whisp visited Ash once again, trying to touch his sword, but he once more, pulled away and it slipped away.

18th – 20th of Uktar : Spending several days, the group engages in a Skill Challenge (Athletics, Perception and Thievery), and assembles a timber raft, capable of hauling the group and their horses across Paradise River.

21st of Uktar : The group launched their raft, the “SS Salamander”, and managed to get everything across the river, heading directly to The Monastery. Slogging through the woodlands, they eventually found the tree-covered hill hiding the The Monastery of Magos, and are confronted by a massive cave bear, which Squirrel managed to talk to and convince it to leave.

The group clustered around the massive front door, and quickly resorted to bashing it in, viewing the wondrous mosaics beyond in the main entry hall. A rapid seris of assaults resulted in the slaughter of a pair of goblin hunting groups, a few leader-types and a group of “breeders” clutching their kits, before confronting the main group of goblin warriors and their shaman leader in the feasting hall beneath the main tower. A few handfuls of copper coins, a cache of silver nuggets, and a lost collection of rituals from a moldy book pi were all that the adventurers recovered. Fangrik slipped up the bell-tower, and found a sealed portal leading to the top room. It was revealed to hold a young woman prisoner of the goblins, Lady Alimira of Blackhill. Convincing her of the group’s sincerity in her well-being, they brought her out of the tower, and made a camp in the main hall beneath the mosaics.

22nd of Uktar : The group broke camp and bundled Alimira aboard their pack horse for the journey back to The Keep. The trip back across the Paradise River was harrowing, but otherwise uneventful , and they convened back at the Prancing Pegasus Inn to rest and discuss options and ideas.

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The Mines of the Goblin King
"Goblins be tricksy folk..."

8th of Uktar : Supplies are gathered by the group for their stay at the tower, consisting of extra blankets, firewood, lamp oil and fifteen days worth of food.

9th of Uktar : The group travelled up the old trail towards the tower, snow flying everywhere, on the edge of a storm. Having left their horses behind, they dragged the handcart with the cage through the drifting snow. Halfway up the trail, they encountered a Griffon, which stared at them, before flying away.

Reaching the abandoned Vesper Tower, the group gathered all their supplies together, and set-up their temporary home. Fangrik headed out into the area near the lake below Vesper Tower, finding many tracks of both goblins and wolves. The group camped happily and told stories late into the night.

10th of Uktar : The group returned to the lake, and tracked the goblins and wolves north along the lake edge into an evergreen copse, where they found a bedraggled cabin in the woods. Closing on the thicket, they heard a wolf whine from within, and cautiously approached. Once within sight, three wolves gang-attacked the group from the thicket’s depths, and very quickly were joined by a pair of large dire wolves, that tore into the group’s casters from the flanks. The fight was fierce, but over quickly.

In the cabin, the group found a momma wolf and six cubs. While Fangrik and Kruck skinned the wolves, the group searched through the wreckage in the cabin. They found some scattered coins and a pair of orcish mangs, but also six small wolf cubs. Dragging everything back to Vesper Tower, the group left them under the care of Drew the Avaricious and Lord Taumus of House Daures two servants, before returning to the cabin and searching for the goblin’s lair.

Entering, they found a strangely well-built mine shaft, that led to an octagonal chamber with a corridor leading off. Carefully crossing the chamber, they found numerous pit traps, and were ambushed by five goblins using javelins and hand crossbows. Pushing down the other corridor, while the rest of the group slowly followed over the pits, Kruck and Fangrik slew one and pushed the others into retreat.

The fight went bad, when Fangrik followed after a pair of fleeing archers down a dead-end corridor, to discover he’d been led into another trap… a giant rolling boulder that closely followed along as he fled the ambush of another pair of archers hidden behind it. The boulder slipped back along the corridor, and fell into a pit trap where Ash Cogward was struggling to get across, crushing him and knocking him unconscious. Quickly healing him, the group retreated from the ambush corridor, and managed to get away, with the sound of a gong being struck further down the right corridor, and the hasty approach of many other goblins.

Returning to the tower beaten and bruised, the group came upon a young elf, who identified himself as Aaron Fisher who was examining Vesper Tower. After a quick interrogation, the group invited him to help them attack the goblin tribe they seemed to have uncovered, and he accepted. The group rested and had a small feast, and after binding their wounds, returned to the mine entrance. Carefully sneaking down the corridor, and avoiding the trapped pits, they found a large group of goblin warriors engaged under the direction of a goblin shaman, in raising the boulder out of the pit using ropes and wood for leverage, a few inches at a time. The group attacked without mercy or warning, and a fierce battle once more erupted around the open pit trap and boulder. Taumus dropped a particularly powerful zone of flames that kept the goblins from rallying in the corridor beyond the pit, and broke up their defenses enough that the group was successful in forcing them to retreat to the right, with a couple fleeing down another corridor straight ahead and beyond into the dark.

The group rallied, and followed the retreating goblin shaman (particularly annoying little bastard), and heard a loud roar from further down, followed by the appearance of a massive cave bear << They’ve got a CAVE BEAR!?!>>. The bear tore into their front ranks, and managed to drop Fangrik before it was bloodied enough that it too retreated back and away from the group. The adventurers rallied once more, and pulled back down the corridor and pit traps, but not before taking the goblin’s ropes from the boulder. Returning to the Vesper Tower, they set up guards, and settled in for a good night’s extended rest.

11th of Uktar : After another long rest, the group returned to the cabin, and began a search in the snow for another exit to the mines, since, they believed, no self-respecting goblin would not have a second exit to their lair. Fangrik spent hours combing the cliff walls on the northern face of the mountain around the mines, but found nothing, while the other adventurers turned the cabin upside down looking for anything else.

The group then returned to the mine, passing the pit traps and reaching the corridor beyond where another brawl erupted. At one point, Fangrik followed after two archers, but failed to stop them from once more activating the boulder trap (though he got them both), but this time the group was ready, and it harmlessly fell into the open pit beyond. Many goblins were slaughtered, and eventually the bear was released once more and fought them until it tried to retreat and was slaughtered mercilessly at a junction beyond the ambush corridor. Fangrik followed after a pair, and wound-up swimming through a filthy goblin sewer pit, contracting Filth Fever.

At the first dead-end they found the cave bear’s lair and where it was kept chained-up, with a barrack next to it holding the hated alarm gong. Carefully proceeding into the complex, they were again attacked by an avalanche trap, and found several small rooms used as barracks, and a narrow passage that led to a couple locked and sturdy goblin-sized doors. Behind one they found a narrow little cell holding a dwarf!

The dwarf, identified as Bargrum, seemed uninterested in believing either Kruck or Fangrik, and seemed to distrust the word of a gnome who associated with monsters… The dwarf informed them that “The Master” wouldn’t really appreciate his leaving, and that the adventurers would likely be his feast if they continued, so he declined their assistance, and sealed himself back in his cell and bid them good day. Slipping down the narrow corridor beyond they came into a large barracks chamber with a horde of goblins gathered, and started another brawl.

Obviously the shaman’s personal chambers, the fight was touch and go for a while, and the adventurers nearly retreated, but Fangrik and Kruck, supported by Ash and his healing, and Taumus and his spells, they slaughtered many (including a lot of “hunter” goblins who fell quite easily. The shaman’s blinding attacks were particularly troublesome, but for the final time, the shaman was cornered and slain. Searching the lair, they found a few coins and scavenged all the weapons and other goods they could, including various wild foods found among the “hunter” goblin’s sacks. In one corner, the hearth (which was impassable), they could hear goblin “yammering”, which they felt hinted at another band somewhere else in the complex.

The group began following the deeper corridors, finding them narrowing and winding, looking more like goblin diggings. At one point they found a small group of goblins deep in the mines using crude stone picks to pull silver nuggets from the walls, and slew them quickly. In one corridor, they found a well-built stone wall with a slot in it at goblin height. Ash used his magic weapon, Brightflame to activate it and open the secret door beyond, to reveal a large chamber with a dozen breeding goblins and the great king of the goblins…

A tough-looking goblin warrior, he proved very talkative, and while he was very diplomatic (for a goblin), he was still a goblin. It proved he was willing to talk, and the group managed to piece together that the goblin king answered to someone called “The Master”, likely the orc referred to by Bargrim earlier. They agreed to let the goblin king and his breeders live after he explained the Master lived deeper in the mines. << This deal getting worse all the time! Why you not go already?!? >> The group agreed this was where the “yammerigng” had come from, and consulting their maps,decided there was little else to investigate, especially considering how wounded and tired they were. Taking their leave of the king and their collected loot, they subdued the dwarf from his cell and dragged him bound with their loot back to Vesper Tower. They rested and set guards.

.
12th of Uktar : The group gave Drew the responsibility to sort and assess the gathered loot, and he promised to sell it all once they all returned to Frandor’s Keep. Fangrik went under the care of Taumus and Ash, and was cured of his Filth Fever.

Returning to the mine complex, the group began searching down the other sewer-blocked corridor, and beyond found a series of scything blade traps. The group successfully passed that, and explored the mines deeper delvings, finding narrow, twisting earthen tunnels that only a goblin would enjoy following. They were lost for a short while, but eventually mapped how they all connected together.

Leaving that behind, the group returned to confront the goblin king, and found he had taken his breeders, his hidden hoard of loot, and som supplies from his personal stash and fled the complex overnight. Fangrik was beside himself in angr over having been apparently played by a goblin. << We were bluffed by the goblin king?!? F!@# IT! >.

The group returned to Vesper Tower, and took a long rest, counting their collected loot and contemplating the value of a hidden silver mine.

13th of Uktar : The group loaded their supplies onto the handcart, and began the hard trip through the snow down the mountain trail to The Keep. Along the way, the group got into a philosophical discussion regarding ambush points along the trail, and eventually Taumus stated, “…well, historically speaking, this was a great place for some orcs to be hiding in the shadowy trees…”

A group of orcs leapt out of the shadowy trees and attacked, while one spent some time smacking his head into a tree and building a berserk frenzy. The fight was tough. Very tough… But eventually all five orcs were slain, and the group rallied to search their belongings. Along with a bevy of handaxes, they found a human arm in the big one’s pack, branded with a raven symbol… the mark of The Ravens. Why they would be carrying that around was odd, but the adventurers left the corpses and continued on down the trail, reaching The Keep before nightfall and the gate’s closure. Taking rooms at the Prancing Pegasus Inn, the group stored their loot in the warehouse and planned for a couple days rest before making their next moves…

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Stumbling towards fame
"Our first forays around the Keep brought local fame..."

Uktar 2nd, 1048 TR, Late Evening : Dragging the handcart/cage through the bitter snowy evening for a mile, the group managed to return to the Palisade, gaining access and parking the cart in a far corner under guard, while they tried to get some sleep in the stables.

Uktar 3rd, 1048 TR : Awakening to a cold snowy day once more, the group waited a few hours, and then sent Fangrik and Drew the Avaricious to meet with Jirik, the “exotics” merchant in the Middle Bailey. Eventually they found him in The Broken Hilt, and convinced him to come out to the Palidsade for a look at what they’d captured. He accompanied them and agreed to pay them for the two creatures in exchange for 12gp. He said he was also looking for orcs, gnolls, goblins and (in particular) a matched pair of kobolds. Kruck was very leery about the whole exchange, but Drew convinced him (lied) they were not sentient creatures. The exchange was made back in the Keep, and the group made plans to return and take-out the remaining members of The Leech Men, using fire.

Lord Taumus of House Daure and Ash Cogward, however, were still stricken with Filth Fever, and made plans to hunt down a cure when they had a chance.

Returning to the brambles, they systematically started burning the brambles using Taumus Flaming Hands, and after a few minutes, the remaining Leechmen gathered and clicked back and forth in some sort of conversation. They suddenly massed and attacked the group, half of them moving to flank and attack the fire-using casters. The group proved ruthless and slaughtered most, while a pair managed to flee off through the brambles and out into the cold, snowy wilds. Drew started taking heads off the fallen creatures for their bounty, while Taumus began burning off the remaining brambles. The rest scoured the ashes for any treasure, finding a lone shield near one nest, that proved to be a Light Shield of Protection.

Once more, battered and bloody, the group returned to the castle and spread out looking for supplies. Drew sold the heads to the bounty master for 1 sp each. Taumus gathered holy water and healing herbs for his Filth Fever from Healer Balan, further getting a promise to have him visit them for healing after he’d dealt with feeding the lepers…. Kruck, Fangrik and Squirrel returned to the Palisade, reporting they had cleared out the nest of Leechmen, and Master Tarkin granted them their reward of free care and fodder for their horses and other mounts for the entire Winter. Everyone returned back to the Prancing Pegasus for baths, meals and general rest. Kruck started nosing around about the status of The Ravens, but they were proving to be an elusive contact. Everyone finally slept in clean, warm beds.

4th of Uktar, 1048 TR : Healer Balan met with the sick member sof the group, and healed them with his herbs and teas. It was expensive, but worth it, besides all his money was going to a good cause. Kruck re-purchased access to their warehouse slot for a ten-day. The group also resupplied.

Gathering their supplies, the group took their cage-handcart, and took a trip up the trail past Quarrytown (having a good look at the place for the first time). They reached a cross pathway, and got a little lost, but eventually Fangrik took the map away from Drew and the group headed up over the pass south of Frandor’s Keep towards Vesper Tower. When they got there, they discovered it to be a 30’-tall stone tower built up against an outcropping and coated with frost, having no visible entrance. No door, no windows or crossbow slits, and no access to the top. The place was silent as a grave, and no light was visible, anywhere.

Fangrik scaled quickly to the top, and discovered a goblin with a short bow. The goblin squeaked and shot at Fangrik, resulting ina vicious running bash that knocked the goblin over the edge, where he fell in front of the group. It was a quick death. Along one side of the tower was a winch with a thick rope attached, a large bronze bowl filled with wood (a signal flame, meant to be seen by The Keep or a nearby tower), and a single hatch leading down. Fangrik slipped through the hatch, and dropped into the hollow interior, landing at the bottom of the ladder between a pair of sleeping goblins and a pile of trash in the far corner. Slaying one with complete surprise, eh slew the other before it could react. Fangrik dragged the corpses one by one up the ladder, dropping them next to the first corpse, then released the catch on the winch and helped everyone up onto the top of the watch tower.

The group tidied the place a bit, finding a pair of corpses in the corner that had been nibbled on, and wearing torn surcoats from The Lynx Legion, taking them as proof of the death of the guards. The group poured oil on the corpses, burning them, and eventually cleared the place enough to lay down their bedrolls and camp in the relatively chill tower, but at least away from the winds.

5th of Uktar, 1048 TR : The morning dawned bitterly cold. Cleaning the tower better, and tossing the trash out over the sheer southern cliffs, they made the place relatively livable. Leaving the handcart-cage at the tower’s base, they headed east up the trail, finding a large mountain lake and small pine woods. They found recent tracks of both goblins and wolves, before reaching the remains of Wolf Tower at teh trail’s end.

Perched on a tall stone outcropping that actually could see over the mountain ridge to the north, it proved to be heavy stone bound in iron bands and sheathed on the exterior with bronze. Slick and impossibly encrusted with frost, Fangrik had difficulty climbing, but eventually reached the top to find the entire interior gutted and burnt-out. Rigging a pair of ropes over the 40’-high walls, they managed to get everyone inside, where they searched through the rubble. They also tried to see if there was some magic involved in its construction, but there didn’t seem to be. Apparently once having several floors, the interior timberwork was charred but could be used for firewood. Buried deep in the rubble, was a tall bronze statue… The Golden Lynx!?! The group bedded down for the night, at least away from the wind.

6th of Uktar, 1048 TR : Using very skill at theri disposal, the group wrestled the Golden Lynx out of the rubble, and dragged it outside, over the walls. Dragging the statue down off the ridge, they headed back to Vesper Tower, where they wrestled it back over the walls and perched it on the roof. Rest.

In the middle of the night, squeeking was heard on the roof, and Fangrik slipped out to be attacked by a pair of large Dire Stirges! The nesting pair were tough, but one was slain, and the other buzzed away into the night. Fangrik prepared the large stirge corpse for slow roasting in their fire’s ashes, and in the morning everyone feasted on remarkably good “Roast Blood Stirge”.

7th of Uktar, 1048 TR : Another bitterly cold morning greeted the group. Loading the Lynx on their cart, the group made quick time down the mountain trail to The Keep. The stowed the Lynx in their warehouse slot, and informed the local guards that they had information regarding Vesper Tower. Returning to their rooms in the Prancing Pegasus Inn, they sat around a hot meal and discussed their options. Group (or “Pack” ) names were discussed, including Squirrel’s Mixed Nuts, but they seemed set upon chartering themselves as The Mystery Company. Fangrik gets a nickname of “Scrappy”.

Eventually Taumus and Squirrel went in search of the “magic shop”, and found on the second level above the bounty office, Madame Raadama’s shop filled with trinkets, a crystal ball and various magickal totems and charms. With Squirrel distracted by various trinkets, the Madame proved to be an old hag of a woman who dropped innuendo that she had Materia and other magicakl rituals for sale, but that she required… services…. in return. Taumus balked at becoming her lover, and they excused themselves, with Squirrel one totem richer to ward off vampires (a sprig of garlic on a threaded leather thong).

The Captain-of-the-Guard on night duty appeared and the group informed him of the loss of Vesper Tower and its guards to gblins, presenting proof in the form of their surcoats. They also told of investigating the ruins of Wolf Tower and finding the Golden Lynx. They would recieve reward gold for both notices and arrangements were made to return the Lynx on the morrow. The group rested in warm, cozy beds for the night.

8th of Uktar, 1048 TR : The group went looking for long-term housing, and investigated the apartments, but found them drafty and vermin-infested, as well as rather small. Krusk schmoozed in The Broken Hilt and heard rumors of spirits in the river, but the group dismissed them. Examining Taumus’ map, they noticed the Monastery (on the north side of the river), as well
as the mysterious mine symbol to the south. Snce they had found both a rusty pick and a shovel in the general area near Vesper Tower, they felt the mine might be a good place to examine, and they could use the tower as a base camp to search and rest between missions. So agreed, they spent the day gathering supplies (oil, firewood, extra blankets and as much jerky and other “cold-weather” rations) as they could find for a fifteen-day stay in the mountains. They decided to let their rooms go in the inn for the time being, but arranged to have the warehouse available for the time they were away. Everyone prepared themselves with a night of warm food and drinks.

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Little Keep on the Borderlands
"The Keep... it was everything we expected, and more..."

Shorn 28th, 1048; Evening : Staring at the massive bulk of Frandor’s Keep, the caravan slowly wound its way up the narrow track leading to the castle entrance. Everyone noticed the scattered debris of previous caravans along the cliffs; broken crates and wagon wheels, oxen bones and other debris. After a careful ascent, they approached The Keep’s entrance, noticing a gaggle of individuals scattered about in front. Some displayed various wares on blankets, others approached the caravan, tugging on sleeves to get attention and offering to exchange their services for coin.

The group learned the motley gaggle was known as “The Gauntlet”, and while most people avoided them like the plague, Content Not Found: krusk began offering silver to them if they’d line-up and make way for the caravan. Squirrel commenced "Squirreling"_. The caravan eventually began moving past the_Gauntlet, and made their way into the Keep at last. Crossing through the Outer Bailey_, a rocky island dominated by a massive round tower of black stone (_Storm Tower), they passed over Three Leaps Bridge.

The Lower Bailey beyond was well-guarded, and not without conflict. As the group approached, they were grilled by a venomous guard, who spoke gruffly to both Krusk and Fangrik, questioning everything about them, but they were eventually let through without much more difficulty. Within, they found a pillory with a whipped man manacled to it, who moaned and could barely talk, having been there for some time, apparently… They had to surrender and register their “large” weapons (spears, great axe, longbows, maces and such) and await a license (at a cost of 1 sp for each member of the group), and the group stowed their wagon in the former stables, now a warehouse, where they were given a key to its lock, and a bronze medallion, shaped like a songbird of some sort. Krusk took both. Drew the Avaricious took the group’s horses and ponies and oxen back out to the Palisade, arranging stabling for a ten-day, and selling the oxen and captrued riding horse from the bandit’s camp.

Passing through the outer gate, they noticed a young woman behind a table with coins and weighing apparatus, and a notice board listing various topics. Drew introduced himself, finding the woman was Nepra, a jeweller’s apprentice, who exchanged coins for travellers headed to any local destination; Westwind – The Emerald Realm, Cygnus – The Swan Kingdom, or Brightwater – City of Coins. The flirting commenced. The group took note of various offers and opportunities to make some money during their stay, chuckling over some and staring in abject horror at others. For a few silvers, Nepra detailed where to find the individuals, as well as the local shrines. She also explained about the missing The Golden Lynx from the gate above.

Entering the Middle Bailey, the group scattered to conduct some business. Among them, was the curio shop owned by Dasas, where he had everything including sleds hanging from the roof, and “…Crazy, Low Prices…”. Retiring to The Prancing Pegasus Inn, the group were paid-out for their work in the caravan by Captain Tallus. They arranged for a stay of a ten-day, and met the innkeeper, a stoically handsome dwarf named Darg Turikan. Drew managed to meet with a mercenary, Firg, who sold himself for 1 gp a day plus supplies and equipment from the group’s gathered supplies in the wagon, though he initially asked for 10 gp per day. He knew the nearby area well enough, and would prove to be a benefit in searching the area for whatever the group might seek; Drew saw him as his first recruit for his future merc company…

Lastly, Healer Balan appeared at Lord Taumus of House Daure request. He proved a saint, and was both respected and beloved by everyone at The Keep. He and Taumus spoke about the orphans, and as a result of the talk, Taumus interviewed all five, and decided that two of them; Gyda and Nefera seemed the type Taumus might take on himself as servants. The others would be apprenticed off to local tradesmen.

Shorn 29th, 1048 TR : The group visited Belipar, a local artist, in response to his notice on the public board. Belipar proved to be a waking trope, with all the expected appearances and twitches. He was looking for someone to discover a shipment of lead that had gone missing, which he needed to complete a commission for Lady Lucretia Rainford, since it would be impossible to get more in the time remaining for its completion. He offered 50 gps and further offered to paint the group’s portrait once the snows set in, as a means to make their glory known throughout the valleys… He then modified Taumus’ map, detailing much of the terrain to the east, near the travel road to Cygnus, where the caravan was supposed to have come from.

The group then started to divide-up their gathered loot, and Lady Vathra banRainha took her leave, wishing everyone well and stating she might head across the passes in Spring, and see everyone then… Some shopping commenced, and supplies were gathered to prepare for the search for the caravan.

Leaving in the early afternoon, the group retrieved their mounts, Taumus bringing his new servants, and Drew having his guide assist Fangrik as they travelled. The weather was turning very cold, and by nightfall, the wind was swirling snow across the ground.

Shorn 30th, 1048 TR : The group awoke with frost covering everything. The two children, Gyda and Nefera were heavily bundled and stayed close to their ponies and the fire. Taumus got them moving and helping prepare the morning feast of porridge and bark tea. Starting late, they travelled further east, and after about an hour came upon the horrible scene of the fallen caravan.

The bodies of many gaurds and merchants were strewn across the clearing, obviously slain by bowfire from the woods on both the north and south sides of the trail. One wagon remained, and all the horses were slain, as well. The wreckage of the caravan’s goods were strewn everywhere. The odd smell of algae could be detected everywhere across the trail. Careful searching revealed a set of cart tracks heading off into the south woods, about three days old, along with several horses and about a dozen small, scaly clawed feet. Kobolds! Off in that direction lay a rocky outcropping, and the group headed off into the frosted brush.

After about an hour of hacking through the woods, they came to edge of a large flat stony swath of land, where the tracks ended at the battered cart, now stripped of its belongings. The tracks led across the stones, so Taumus left his servants and Drew his guard t watch over them and the group’s mounts, while they headed across the stony area. Within a few minutes, the cry of a wolf-pack broke across the clearing, and soon enough the group was surrounded by a pack of vicious wolves, led by a massive black beast the size of a large pony. The fight was quick, wiht the smaller wolves knocking over individuals and the large one moving smartly back and forth, displaying its great cunning. After grieviously wounding several, and slaying one, the pack broke and scattered into the nearby woods. Fangrik gathered the hide of the fallen one, and the group continued across the clearing into the heavy woods on the other side.

In the thick woods, they found the rotting corpses of the horses, seemingly attacked, but not eaten by the wolves. The smell of algae was very strong around the corpses, and Ash Cogward identified the algae smell as being a warning of some sort of fungus was rooting in the corpses… a toxic one. The group burned the horse bodies, using lamp oil and torches, and moved on into the forest.

They promptly found themselves in an old orchard, of a type which none of them could identify. They gathered a sack of the old, dessicated apples, and followed the path to a large pond with a small steading on an island in its center. A thin wisp of smoke escaped from the chimney, and it was apparent a smartly tended orchard of these same apples lay behind it, along with a collection of small outbuildings and sheds. They were unable to get anyone’s attention, and with no visible way across the lake, they followed the shore leading to the rocky outcropping.

At the base of the rocky promontory, they found a sandy beach surrounding a dark-looking cave. As they approached, they noticed the same small clawed footprints and heard the distintive barks and yips of Draconic. Entering the cave, they quickly found a central cavern, wiht piles of caravan goods and crates scattered about, and a dozen kobolds dancing, cavorting and generally carrying on. The utterly obnoxious odor of urine could be smelt everywhere. In the center of the room lay a pile of silvery crystals (the LEAD!), and a pile of dirty jars next to it. Ash found a trap near the entrance, disabled it, and the group charged in to attack.

After the initial surprise, the group proceeded to mow down the kobolds, though the appearance of one from the shadows wielding paired short swords was a surprising development. Overall, however, the kobolds took a beating, and eventually tried to escape, but the group worked together to defeat them, allowing none to escape. Taumus and Drew gathered the smelly lead crystals, tossing them into the urine-soaked jars, and then tossing those into a barrel packed with hay to protect them. Collecting a pewter service set (for ten!), some burgundy seed in a sack, a a few luxury items (like a small-sized silk dress and a candlestick). They then looted the kobolds of their loose coins and javelins, and left them to rot in the cave.

Travelling back to the lake, Fangrik swam across, and approached the cabin, trying to get the inhabitants attention. Eventually, he coaxed the door open to reveal an older lady bering a crossbow. After convincing her the “wolf” meant no harm, Widow Parikin opened the door, and let Fangrik take a rowbot from a shed in back to retrieve his companions. They packed themselves into her cabin, festooned with drying herbs, and were offered bark tea and slices of her own Norish Apple pie. Fangrik slipped out to chop wood (just like ol’ Joe would do when he visited widows).

The group engaged in a long discussion about the Norish Apples, and why she lived alone, and the death of the local kobold tribe that had been annoying her. She told about how her husband had learned the secret to Norish Apples, and how to raise them and prepare them into all sorts of things, though she only baked them into pies and cakes. She also told of how her grand-daughter braved the wilds to bring her a basket of supplies once and a while. Lastly, the group learned about her great-grandfather, Ver’Kusi, and how he once had a balde of some sort that he kept… Soon thereafter, teh group excused themselves, and making it back across the lake (followed by Fangrik, who returned the rowboat and swam back across the lake.

Travelling back through the orchard and across the rocky field, they met with their companions and mounts, and camped for the night.

Uktar 1st, 1048 TR : The morning dawned misty and cold, with hoarfrost on everything. The group broke camp early, and headed back to the caravan wreckage, with the cart (now loaded with the barrel) in tow. They found The Black Banners, where the two groups kinda stared and glowered at each other, before the group headed back up the trail to The Keep, hurrying to get there before the door’s and gates closed for the night. Leaving their mounts in The Palisade, they made their way back across Three Leaps Bridge and into the Middle Bailey. They had their licences, so were able to keep their weapons, and they packed the cart and its contents in their warehouse stall. They visited Belipar, returning the stinky barrel and its contents to him and getting their 50 gps reward. He promised to work on their painting once he’d finished his commission for the Lady Rainford. Lastly, they turned the wolfskin over to Dolm the fur trader for a pittance of 2 gps.

That night, the group feasted on deer stew and cheese (so warm and savory!), and discussed their options. Drew bemoaned the fact they hadn’t brought the kobold heads back with them for the bounty, and they made inquiries about the Widow Parikin’s grand-daughter, to which they learned “…Oh! You mean one of Lanar’s Girld… he’s very protective of them…”. When no one seemed to understand what the dwarven innkeeper was referring to, he mentioned she worked in The Broken Hilt Tavern, where “Lanar keeps, you know… bedwarmers for a price…”.

While everyone suddenly realized what he meant, and looked a little uncomfortable, Drew chugged his ale and ate his meal quickly, and rose to leave, stating “…sorry, I need to see a amn about a whore… I mean HORSE…”, and left for the Tavern. He passed around a few coppers and silvers among the mostly ragged crowd, learning a few common rumors, and retired to a night of bliss with a pretty bedwarmer named Thelka, who charged him an exhorbitant 6 gps for the night. Which he nonetheless paid… He did learn that waerewolves appeared to attacking the livestock in The Palisade, however… The rest retired to their own chambers and slept peacefully in warmth and peace, their bellies full.

Uktar 2nd, 1048 TR : The group roused early, and headed to The Palisade to investigate the rumors. Speaking wiht Tarkin, the old master of the stables and The Palisade, they learned that something, werewolves everyone believed, were indeed attacking the livestock. Since Lord Sandus Rainford own cavalry were stabled in the barn, only the merchant’s and other visitors, including the group’s own mounts, were at risk. Examining the wounds, they found a strange, oddly-shaped wound on several mounts, and Malkin related that they were usually just wounded, though the other night, they had found on horse slain from a fever it had caught from the wound it had taken. In exchange for solving the mystery and ending it, the group (with Drew as spokesman), managed to convince him to give them free stabling for the winter.

The group then headed back to The Keep, dodging The Gauntlet, and while some grabbed the hand-cart and emptied it of goods, the others headed to the Hepekerian Dasas’ curio shop, and acquired a large wooden cage (that would fit on the cart), and several fishing nets, intending to capture several of the creatures for resale to Jiric, the “exotics” trader. After a good early meal at the inn, the group headed back to The Palisade, and iwth the cage on the cart nearby, and several nets at hand, they staked-out Kruck’s horse, and hid among the herd for the night.

After several hours of waiting, they noticed the herd go silent, along with all the nearby woodland creatures. Scattered along the edges of the stockade, several shadowy forms rose up. Small, but bent and spindly, like ghouls, the creatures seemed to hiss and snicker back and forth between each other. After a few quiet minutes, the group slipped back behind the stockade and scattered into the dark… apparently the trap had been noticed. The group gathered and with Fangrik’s skilled nose, sniffed-out their trail, and followed it about a mile east along the mountain.

The thicket they approached was cloaked in shadow and brambles, with a handful of bones and other debris lying among the roots of the thickets. Approaching something appearing to be a heavy thicket and lair, the group noisily pushed their way among the roots, before a sudden movement all around the thicket erupted. The Leech Men were awakened, most scattering nimbly out of the thicket and into the dark, though a couple charged and attacked the nearest targets. The battle was brief, with several members taking brutal damage from the Leech Men’s lamprey attacks, and a couple even felt the poisons of the Leeches blood disease course through their veins, but they managed to subdue a pair, tie them up and toss them in the cage. Securing their cargoes, the group pushed back along the frozen trail to reach The Keep, even though the gates would likely be drawn shut…

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A is for Altars
"You are playing with powers beyond your ken..."

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…

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