Five weeks have passed since the end of our last adventure. It has been a busy time for all of Laston. A few of the elderly passed away from the waterborne sickness, and Brother Simon presided over their funeral, asking Jakariel the Claimer to speed them on their way to the Celestial Palaces. Next was the Endwinter Feast. Normally a time of great merriment, the mood was dampened by the loss of a few elders and the continued absence of so many loved ones off fighting in the King’s Army. The next few weeks were spent in preparation for spring, when the potatoes and squash must be sown, keeping everyone busy. Now the spring thaw has opened the roads, bringing travelers to Laston. Goran Claysmith, a dwarven merchant, comes bearing pottery in a unique shade of green made from a clay found in the Iron Hills. Hopeful miners come to Laston to lay in a few final supplies before setting out in the hopes of finding precious minerals in the remote areas of the High Valleys. Marrick of Southglen, a traveling troubadour, arrives bearing news from the war.
- Although many seem to think the Lesser Races will be broken by Highsummer, Baron Coluddyn has already sent out the Pressers to gather more troops. Baron Greenspire is likely to follow suit, which is dire news to many who have come of age to be conscripted since last Summer.
- Joseph Warwick, who has taken in Krehir, learned that his sons both live. The eldest has lost some fingers, but not his arm.
- The mercenary dwarven clans from the Iron Hills have seen heavy fighting, and their leader Riglar Glaivebreaker has been killed in battle. Fokhe Gravemaker now rules the clan that Kore hails from.
- Beld’s father and brother are both faring well, serving as scouts in the Black Forest. So far from the front, they’ve surely seen little action.
- Glia’s brother Caden lives, but has become despondent thanks to the bleakness of war.
Valeran and Kore learned that their family was soon to have a new member – Ilga Hardek is with child, and expects to deliver in late Spring or early Summer. Harvel and the boys will be working on an extension to the house to accommodate the child.
Alastrianna has been organizing training for the younger children in town, teaching them the rudimentary aspects of combat. She has enlisted our heroes into her effort. Krehir was able to best Kenton in a wrestling contest, but it proved closer than Krehir would have expected given his size advantage. Valeran was engaged in drills when Brett struck an underhanded blow, but his maintained his temper. Others coming to his aid stayed their hands, but heaped harsh words upon Brett. Seeing that, Gage was somewhat more circumspect in his training with Glia.
Glia and her master Grek have been having a difficult time with trapping this season. Many traps have been triggered, but the prey escaped. In speaking with other around town, she learned that this isn’t unique to them. Something appears to be up, and so she set about investigating. Her attempts to catch
whatever is taking animals from her traps yielded no answers but did provide a bounty – a stag, one of the largest taken in some time. It will make fine bacon and jerky once Calyd finishes it in his smokehouse. Meanwhile, Bryant, the youngest son of Krehir’s host, showed him the corpse of a goat, butchered and stripped clean. What manner of beast could do this? Is it the same animal or animals responsible for Glia’s empty traps? Later, Glia detected an unexpected scent on the goat’s remains, almost like cinnamon.
Also arriving in Laston is Arlo Frinazi. Hailing from a merchant family in Trelgar, he is an explorer and archaeologist. After speaking with the Mayor, he approached Beld with an offer to hire our heroes to show him around the area. He’s been speaking with people around town ever since his arrival and is interested in seeing as much of the local sites of note as possible.
- He’s heard about Krehir’s village, and is interested in getting to see the village of the isolated goliaths, even if it is abandoned.
- The Knight’s Tomb, whose occupant is unknown, has sparked his curiosity.
- He would be interested in seeing the dwarven stronghold as well, but is uncertain of the safety of any such undertaking.
- Once he learned of Auntie Elspeth, and her willingness to talk and tell stories, he indicated he would love to meet her as well.
After some discussion of payment for their services, our heroes set about discussing the possible destinations. Would traveling to the dwarven stronghold rile up Minrath? Is it too dangerous? Although everyone agreed that a trip to Knight’s Tomb was acceptable, arriving there with the new moon is not a good idea. And so it was decided – they would leave in the morning for Auntie Elspeth’s, then continue on to Krehir’s village. The trip should take about a week round-trip, so Arlo laid in provisions and they departed the next day.
As the evening approached, our heroes came to the river where they first encountered Skekrad the River Troll. He again appeared, but he seems to have kept his promise not to harass travelers. Speaking with Skekrad about the strange animal activity, he knew nothing of it but commented that he had just arrived in this river when he first met the group. Asked about his history, he told the heroes a tale of a terrible figure known as the Underking – seen only from a distance, bearing a horned spear, he was terrifying to look upon. From his description, our heroes made him to be some sort of Fey, but his description was unclear as Skekrad fled from his river (a feat which nearly killed him in the undertaking) rather than swear fealty to the Underking through his herald. Thanking Skekrad for his story, and with Arlo insisting on paying for the tale, our heroes crossed the river on a bridge of river rock that Skekrad summoned to the surface, and continued on their journey to Auntie Elspeth and the goliath village.
in which we revisit Auntie Elspeth, and see what has become of Krehir’s home
After staying the night near Skekrad’s river, our heroes continued on their journey to Auntie Elspeth’s valley, arriving just before lunchtime. She didn’t seem surprised to see them, as she had a large pot of soup cooking. When asked, she said that a passing boggart had told her of their expected arrival. Our heroes stayed the afternoon and evening with her, working around the valley, while Arlo spoke with her about local history and customs. In particular, he was curious about the boggarts since he knows so little of them.
Auntie Elspeth was able to explain a good deal of things about the boggarts to Arlo and the group. Boggarts live in warrens, spending most of their time exploring and obtaining food, and then bringing back these new experiences to the warren. Status is won by bringing back the most interesting sensations to share with the group – a fragrant flower the others have never seen, an odd bit of metal that used to be part of someone’s wagon wheel, or a fresh pie from someone’s windowsill are all good finds. Decisions are usually made by consensus, with the loudest boggarts getting the most say, but for particularly difficult decisions the warren relies on the wisdom of their nearest Auntie – an older, wiser, and usually female, boggart. That’s where Elspeth’s title of Auntie comes from – after she helped the boggarts out with some difficult problems the boggarts started calling her that, and it eventually spread to the other inhabitants of the High Valleys. Auntie Elspeth continued telling stories throughout the afternoon and evening, Arlo soaking up all the local history.
In the morning, the group set out for the goliath village, Krehir’s home. After a long morning walk, they arrived at the village to find the village in a completely different state of repair to what Krehir had seen. While he was here just months before, the village was deserted, with everything both portable and useful packed up and taken. Now, the buildings are collapsing, with fallen walls in many places, causing roofs to cave in and exposing the interiors to the weather. The ground was covered in pockmarks, small divots left by something similar to spearheads. As the rest of the group looked around the dilapidated buildings, Valeran ventured out a bit to investigate a faint magical presence he felt on the northern part of the village. Some movement in the south part of the village caught our heroes’ attention, but it was too quick for them to see what caused the movement that set them on edge. Before Valeran could return to the rest of the group, the ambush was sprung. Several spiders, each the size of a wolf, leapt a prodigious distance from where they lurked while others swarms of countless smaller spiders emerged from hiding. As Valeran rounded a corner, he discovered the reason for the unusual massing of spiders, and their organized ambush – an ettercap had taken up residence in the village. Ettercaps are monstrous humanoids of very limited intelligence who somewhat resemble the spiders they use as hunting dogs to bring down their prey. Isolated from the rest of the heroes, Valeran let out a battle cry as he engaged the ettercap and its spider swarm.
Krehir took up a defensive position in the middle of the road, using his size and talents to allow the other heroes to maneuver around the spiders. Gwil tried to stay back, out of danger, but several of the spiders managed to get to Beld. Hearing Valeran’s battle cry, Kore moved forward to assist his brother. During the battle, the arachnids managed to poison both Kore and Beld several times, but they were able to shrug off many of the effects thanks to their resilient dwarven stamina. Arlo also moved to assist Valeran, reluctantly gripping his quarterstaff and moving around to where he had last seen the swordmage before the spiders emerged.
Cut off from the others in an alley and trapped between a spider swarm and the ettercap, Valeran fought well, but eventually fell to their combined might. Arlo attempted to revive him, but failed in his first attempt. Eventually, Valeran would regain his composure and crawls towards the nearby spider swarm that had left him unconscious but alive only at the ettercap command. His Sword Burst finally managed to bring down the swarm, the tiny ribbons of force scything through the multitude of spiders that escaped a typical blow from a blade. The ettercap, high atop the roof of a neighboring building, was damaged both by Valeran’s burst and then by acid Kore flung in his direction. A bolt of divine lightning from Gwil damaged him even further, then be fell from the rooftop as the acid did him in. With his demise, the remaining spiders attempted to flee, only to be cut down by the others and they ran for the safety of their tunnels and webs.
After the battle, the heroes searched the village and surrounding area thoroughly, discovering many things of interest in the process:
- The walls of most of the buildings had apparently collapsed due to tunnels dug beneath them, many only a foot or even less beneath the surface.
- Kore crawled into the largest tunnel to see what he could discover. The entire area beneath the village seems to be a honeycomb of these recently-burrowed tunnels.
- While searching the tunnel, Kore discovered a piece of a chitinous pincer. Gwil was able to identify this as a Kruthik, an insect-like reptile that lives in a small hive with others of its kind. They can strip the carcass of their prey, leaving only the bones, much like the goat that Bryant had shown to Krehir. Kruthik are motivated by two thing – food, and the lack of food – with their keen sense of smell leading them to new hunting grounds they can deplete before they move on to the next. But how many kruthik would it take to dig this many tunnels, and why would they come to Krehir’s village after it’s been abandoned and no longer holds any prey for them?
- Ettercap are scavengers of tools. This one wielded a longspear it had either found or taken off a previous victim. Once they found its filthy nest our heroes discovered it was fashioning a crude shield from a piece of kruthik shell, scraps of rope, and its own webbing.
- Looking at the tracks the kruthik have made, it appears that they may have moved about in a more deliberate fashion that normal, going from one tunnel to the next while spending little time above ground. This doesn’t seem typical, but what could it mean?
- Searching around the village, Kore discovered an area where the kruthik had swarmed, either before or after entering the village. The number of tracks there were uncountable, the ground muddy and torn from their spiky feet. Nearby, our heroes discovered the remnants of a small campfire. In checking the ashes, they noticed a faint cinnamon smell lingering.
December 9, 2010 18:00
In which our heroes return home to Laston, then decide where to take Arlo next
Having completed their search of the goliath village, the heroes discussed options with Arlo. They could return to Laston, but they were still well-stocked with supplies and other destinations beckon. But where to visit next? The dwarven stronghold is the closer of the two, with Knight’s Tomb lying further west. But is the stronghold too dangerous with Minrath wakened? Kore dismissed such thoughts, saying, “We went they once, and we all came back just fine.” And so it was decided to head straight to the Dwarven stronghold, then visit Knight’s Tomb afterwards. This plan was favored by the heavens as well, as they should arrive at Knight’s Tomb near the full moon, and local custom says the further from the new moon the better when one must travel that way.
Along the way, the heroes encountered another boggart, an easily-distracted fellow by the name of Hogswitch. Despite numerous attempts to clarify his name, it remained unclear if his name involved flogging pigs or swapping them for one another. But after Krehir threw a small stone at the boggart, Hogswitch decided to tag along for a while with the group that had gifted him with such a treasured goliath weapon. Hogswitch spoke of the King of Doors, a great dwarven king who had risen from nowhere to lay claim over all of the mountains – or perhaps, the entire world; the boggart wasn’t exactly clear on that point. He had heard of this great dwarven king from a warren to the south when his warren and this other warren shared some boggarts. After much discussion on the topic, Kore remembered a claim he had made to the hangmen boggart Noggin, “See these mountains? I own these mountains. They all belong to me.” Could Noggin have taken that claim literally? Perhaps. But after an couple of hours spent walking with Hogswitch and his endless questions, they parted ways with the boggart and continues on to the dwarven stronghold.
After reading the book claimed from the goblin mechanic, Valeran was able to share that the name of the dwarven stronghold was Lut Banwel. A Lut is a protected dwarven settlement, anything from a small isolated fort to a sprawling city with a massive keep. Banwel means ‘high place’ – a fitting name for a stronghold nestled in the High Valleys. Arriving at Lut Banwel, our heroes set about exploring the place over the next couple of days.
Previously, our heroes had followed the paths that the goblins had used while they worked on the furnace and drill, leading them deeper into the mountain. This time, they started exploring the more public areas of the stronghold. They found a large corridor, its walls lined with sculpture in relief showing dwarves engaged in all manner of professions – crafting, trade, warfare – that ultimately led to a set of massive gates. Subtle sloping in the corridor had led them to place where the wall sculpture, once showing life-size dwarves, now has the dwarves towering over those who approach the chamber. Opening the massive doors, which must weigh a ton or more each yet swing open with modest effort, the heroes were greeted with what must have been a receiving chamber of some sort. They stood in a half-circle section of flooring slightly lower than the rest of the room. Marks of the floor suggest that statues or large chairs once rested around the perimeter. The ceiling was supported by massive statues resembling rough-cut dwarves, carved from the very stone of the mountain. This was perhaps an audience chamber. For a priest? For a king? The dwarves had taken what they could, and little sign remained to explain this grand chamber. As they continued through Lut Banwel, Arlo made numerous rubbings and sketches .
Continuing their search of the stronghold, our heroes found another chamber reminiscent of the receiving room, but somewhat more modest. The sculpture had a somewhat darker tone to it, which an overriding theme of sacrifice and death. Our heroes entered into a large chamber, with alcoves lining the walls, and each alcove holding a sarcophagus. Each sarcophagus bore a sculpture of an armored dwarf holding a shield. Two giant statues of dwarves, each twenty feet tall, support the ceiling on the far side of the chamber. To enter the chamber proper, they used the two stone bridges over a spiky pit.
Krehir noted that the chamber was slightly tilted towards the pit, the angle of the floor cloaked by more of the deceptive architecture.
As they entered the chamber, the heavy doors fell shut with the sound of a heavy noise. Two stone guardians, each shaped as a dwarf and of appropriate size, detached themselves from each of the two large statues and approached menacingly. To make matters worse, movement in all the alcoves signaled some sort of trap put into action.
The shields held by the dwarven sarcophagi swiveled around, revealing some sort of crossbow device. Furthermore, small doors in the base of each sarcophagus opened and scree began pouring from the first pair of openings closest to the pit, threatening to sweep our heroes into the pit.
The dwarven statues attacked, but proved no match for Krehir, Kore, and Glia as they were dispatched with haste. Scree poured from more and more alcoves, pushing the heroes to the very precipice of the pit, while bolts rained down on the battlefield from the alcoves. Once the stone guardians were destroyed, they began to get clear of the scree and try to deactivate or destroy the crossbow traps. But the chamber’s defenses were not completely assembled yet, for once the scree quit flowing and reached the pit, it formed into a massive elemental and moved to attack. Although the ensuing battle was difficult, our heroes prevailed.
Searching the chamber, they came across several items of note. Levers cleverly concealed in one of the gigantic dwarven statues controlled both the crossbow traps and the bar that sealed them in, allowing for egress from the chamber. Searching the room, they found a few items of notable value to take as prizes for their hard-fought victory. Kore found a large shield, bearing an unknown sigil composed of gold and silver, and likely of considerable value once a suitable buyer could be found, but eventually decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Glia kept a pretty dwarven dagger, somewhat ornate and somehow still sharp after all this time.
December 16, 2010 18:00
In which our heroes travel to Knight’s Tomb, final resting place of an unknown lord
After resting overnight in Laston, our heroes set out bright and early for Knight’s Tomb, their trip timed to bring them to the tomb very near the full moon. Before leaving town, Arlo said he had hired a few more townsfolk to accompany him, unless someone would mind having extra company along for the trip. Hearing no complaints, they soon joined up with the others that Arlo had hired – Kenton, Brett, and Gage.
During the journey of just over a day, some of our heroes were ill at ease with their newfound companions. First, they learned that Kenton had negotiated a much more lucrative deal for him and his cohorts than Beld had done for our heroes. Then Brett became restless and began to challenge our heroes to meaningless contests. Given the love of competition common in the goliath, Krehir was quick to accept Brett’s challenges of athletic prowess. A quick contest in tree-climbing was arranged. Despite Brett’s agility and speed, Krehir’s reach and raw athleticism would carry him to the top of the appointed tree slightly ahead of the smaller human, making him the victor in this challenge. Brett took this loss poorly, griping about the unfairness of it for some time while they traveled and making no new friends among the group. Meanwhile, Gage tried in vain to ingratiate himself with Gwil, despite her clear lack of interest.
While camping for the night a few miles from Knight’s Tomb, a pack of krenshar , cat-like pack hunters. The krenshar may have snuck into our heroes camp, but the stillness of the night was broken by a lone wolf, which gave a strange howl and was then chased from its hiding-place by the krenshar. Those who saw the wolf said that it bore a large scar on the right side of its head, as if struck a heavy blow by a blade many years before.
Alerted by the noise of the howl and subsequent chase, our heroes sprang into action. A few krenshar came at the camp from the southwest, but were soon met by the armed heroes. As soon as it looked that they might drive off the krenshar, more appeared from the east. The newcomers, apparently the mated pair that gave birth to the rest of this foul pack, peeled back the skin on their skulls and unleashed a fearsome roar that dazed several of the heroes. Our heroes rallied, though, and fought back against the feline hunters. Eventually, they would slay the second adult and the remainder of the pack would scatter. The newcomers proved useful in the battle, with Kenton inflicting significant damage on one of the adult krenshar and Brett claiming the fatal blow on one of the children as it threatened Arlo. Never one to wait for others for praise, Brett was quick to claim his due credit for his role in the battle. After the battle, our heroes and their traveling companions moved camp and then resumed resting, but the remainder of the night would provide little comfort for them.
Morning arrived and it was decided that an early start to Knight’s Tomb was in order. After a quick breakfast and a short walk, they arrived at the tomb – a small construction, only partially above ground level. Entering revealed a short set of stairs leading further down to a double-door. Opening that door, our heroes saw a chamber, crumbling walls from encroaching roots of the trees above. Beyond that chamber lay darkness, for the even the light from their sunrods was meager, dimmed within the eerie tomb.
As they entered the tomb, they saw massive quantities of salt scattered across the floor in a vague crosshatch pattern. Following the only corridor from this room they came to another corridor that crossed the main path through the tomb. To the north was an chamber, empty save for a small fountain that seems to be magically refilled with fresh water. To the south, they found much more – the burial chamber of the Knight’s squire, and the ghost of the squire, trapped within a barrier of salt.
Once our heroes approached, the Ghost Squire threatened them and heaped invectives upon them for being graverobbers. Once they approached, they got a better look at the Squire, In life, he could have been no more than ten years old, and in hid ghostly state he would never age. He carried his master’s sword and shield, both too massive for him to use. The weight of the shield drug down his left arm; the tip of the heavy sword he could barely keep off the ground. Once they assured him there were not in the tomb to steal, he quietened down and explained his reaction. He was the squire to a great knight in the Order of the Shining Saber, a forgotten order of mendicant knights. His master was laid to rest in the main chamber; the Squire ’s body lay in a sarcophagus in this chamber. Some time back, although he could not say how long since time holds no true meaning for the dead, the tomb was visited by some prospectors who decided to delve into graverobbing for an easy profit. He was able to scare them off, but they returned later bearing a large quantity of salt. Casting the salt before then, they relied on its protective qualities against the unnatural to force him back to this chamber. They then turned their attention to the main chamber, and the Ghost Squire was unable to follow. He begged the heroes to free him from this prison, and after some debate Valeran decided that the Squire seemed just and true. Breaking the salt line, the Ghost Squire now was free to travel further into the tomb with our heroes.
A side passage branched from the main corridor, leading to the south. Quick exploration showed that it led to a set of stairs, but dark water had filled in those stairs. The Ghost Squire begged them to leave this passage alone, warning that dangerous shades sometimes crept from within the Dark Mirror of the water. This must be a passage to the Shadowfell, the dark reflection of the mortal world. Returning to the main corridor, the Ghost Squire and the main chamber beckoned our heroes onward.
As they prepared to enter the main chamber, Valeran saw a ghostly figure within. Dressed as a prospector, shovel and pick hanging from cords on his waist, he stood on the dais in front of the sarcophagus of the Knight. Angered by the sacrilege of undead within this burial chamber, Valeran charged into the room at the wraith. His rashness would prove dangerous, though, for the prospector wraith was without allies. Three other wraiths, spirits of the deceased prospectors, lay in wait in the room. Wisp wraiths, older shades barely able to retain any ability to affect the physical world, also lingered in the room. It appeared that the wisps had slain the prospectors, who then rose as wraiths themselves, filled with a burning hatred of those still living.
Our heroes charged into the burial chamber to rally around Valeran, but they were not alone. Kenton sprung into action, and his cohorts were quick to follow. Brett charged into the room, rash and reckless as always. The wraiths, insubstantial, were resistant to some of the attacks, weapons passing through them while inflicting less damage than one would hope. The wraiths would pass through the dais or even the walls themselves to surround our heroes. Beld and Gwil found themselves face-to-face with a prospector’s wraith where but a second before they believed themselves safe behind the warden’s protection. Worse still, the wraiths would pass through our heroes, leaving them breathless, with icy blood, and sending a shiver throughout their very being. It was this gravewalk that claimed the life of young Brett, his eyes rolled back into his skull, his sword falling from his dying grasp as he fell to the floor of the burial chamber. Gage was knocked unconscious, barely breathing, on the floor as well.
Around them, the fight continued. Kenton and Krehir flanked a wraith, laying it low with sweeping blows from their massive weapons. Valeran continued the assault on the lead wraith. Glia and Kore brought down a second wraith, their weapons moving with blinding speed and they tumbled about the room to attack from unforeseen angles. Gwil laid the wisp wraiths to rest with shards of radiant light. Beld healed those in need, his spirit-bear hampering the wraiths’ movement at every turn. Beld healed Valeran, sealing shut frightful wounds that could soon bring him to death’s door as well. He instructed his spirit-bear to turn its back on the fallen Gage and instead provide healing for Krehir, who still stood mighty against the wraiths.
And then Brett rose, his soul departed, but his animus, the shadow of his soul, was now bound into the form of a wraith. He stood, and saw those who had failed him, who had allowed him to fall, those who had offered him such insult in life. He stepped forward, through Gage, who had befriended him always but failed to protect him when it was most needed. As he passed through, he stole away Gage’s last living breath. His gravewalk next took him to Krehir, who never skipped an opportunity to show him up. He continued, passing through those who had once called him friend and those who felt superior to him, driven by his madness and anger.
The newly-risen wraith that was once Brett threatened our heroes, but their resolve was strong. They continued their struggle, finally striking down the leader of the prospector wraiths. Some turned to focus on the wraith that had been Brett, while others turned to Gage. For his soul had too departed, and another wraith was forming from his animus as his spirit fled to the afterlife. Buoyed by the final destruction of the prospector wraith, our heroes destroyed the wraith that had risen from Brett as well as the one seeking to rise from the shadows of Gage’s death.
And thus the battle ended. Two of Laston lay dead. Gage Alban, sole child to a family forced apart when the war took his father to fight along the King, dead at the age of 12. Brett Treharne, aged 11, survived by two younger sibs, his father also at the King’s side. May they rest in peace, and the Claimer have mercy upon them.
December 30, 2010 18:00
In which our deals with the aftermath of the battle in Knight’s Tomb
A profound quiet dominated the burial chamber as our heroes came to realize what had transpired. Kenton stood slack-jawed, silent. Arlo stood likewise. Finally, Kore spoke. “We should gather up these bodies for burial.” After some brief discussion, they decided the carry the two bodies back to Laston. Gwil wrapped the bodies as best she could and performed the Gentle Repose ritual, to preserve the corpses and insure no lingering taint could affect them. Kore instructed Arlo to continue his study of the room; they came here for a purpose so they may as well finish it. Arlo complied, albeit halfheartedly. Kore cast about the room, but found no other exits, so they turned back towards the main corridor that entered this burial chamber on the western wall, only to discover they had visitors.
There stood a Lady, with a greyish tinge to her skin, and eyes that were black orbs, with no discernable pupil or iris. Wisps of the dark fabric of her dress floated about here, as if stirred by a wind that the heroes could not feel. Next to her was a Houndmaster; the same jet eyes, bald, very thin, with a black square tattoo covering the encounter upper-right quadrant of his face. At his belt hung a long knife, serrated and dangerous. He held a leash to a shadowy hound. Similar to a mastiff in shape, but with a black coat and yellow eyes, it snarled at the slightest of movements from the heroes. When it turned its head, an afterimage of its face lingered.
“Shadar-Kai,” said Gwil. “Perhaps once they were human; they served the primordial Marwgoel. When he was overthrown by Jakariel during the Dawn War they were locked in the Shadowfell their master had created, but they sometimes find passage to our world. What do you want, Witch?”
The Lady smiled briefly – a beautiful smile, but one that hints at a humor only she sees. She introduced herself as the Lady Gwawr and explained that she had felt the destruction of her wisps. When asked why she would send such foul things here, she merely stated that she was trying to prevent anyone from using the Dark Mirror to reach her keep within the Shadowfell. She continued, revealing that the Dark Mirror could not always be used as a passage. It might open of its own accord, but it seemed that the deaths of Brett and Gage had opened the passage enough for her and her escort to pass through for a short time. Then the Lady made them an offer – the souls of the deceased had likely not yet reached the Hall of Judgment, and it was within her power to bring one soul back.
The Ghost Squire advised against any deals with those from the Shadowfell. The Lady insisted that the Squire was less than forthcoming, and pressed him to reveal more of the history of Knight’s Tomb to the heroes. Grudgingly, he relented. He explained that the Dark Mirror predated the Knight’s Tomb – the tomb itself was built here to conceal the passage to the Shadowfell. Once, the Dark Mirror lay within a cave below ground. The Squire’s Knight, many years before the Squire came into his service, had learned of the Dark Mirror and sealed the cave shut. Returning years later, he found that a new entrance had formed. Another attempt to seal the passage met a similar fate; the Dark Mirror could not be denied as stone steps had appeared, once again granting passage. The Knight, feeling his own death imminent, came here with his new Squire and many workmen. If the Dark Mirror could not be closed, perhaps it could be disguised? His workmen carved the tomb. What could graverobbers want with a mendicant knight’s tomb? There would be no desire to explore a passage seemingly flooded, as what of interest could lie beyond? And thus Knight’s Tomb came to be; a clever ruse to ward the wicked and the unwary from the Dark Mirror. The Knight was laid to rest within the tomb, his Squire ever at his side.
Krehir cautioned against also against any deal with the Lady. How could one consider this? This wasn’t holy magic; this was dark magic built on ancient pacts made long ago. Who knows what that might do to the newly-restored? The Lady countered that this was merely a soul having been sundered from its body; it would be no different than any divine means of restoring life. Wary of her dark magic, Krehir made to move forward. The Houndmaster, realizing that Krehir’s steps would place him between the Lady and her escort, made ready to spring into action. Noting the Houndmaster’s unease, Krehir stepped back but stayed ready should this visit turn treacherous as he expected.
Kenton demanded that the Lady restore both of his fallen friends, but she said that was not within her power. Kore made an offer of a different sort. “Restore both, and you can take me into your service. A guy like me is handy to have around.” The Lady approached, and looked over the young dwarf appraisingly. “Would that I could, but as I have said such is not within my power and so I could not make such a deal. Perhaps one day I shall come up with another bargain to bring you into my service. My time here is fleeting – if you would have my help, you must choose, and quickly.” All eyes turned to Kenton, but he stood silent, unable to choose between his two boon companions.
It was Kore who spoke up. “Gage. Restore Gage, if you can. Brett’s loss is a tragedy, but Gage is an only child. His family dies with him.” Hearing no dissent, the Lady knelt down. Placing her right hand on the side of the dead Gage’s face, the fingers trailing against his cheek and her thumb covering his closed left eye, she leaned in and gave the body a lingering kiss. After several long seconds, Gage bolted upright. He looked about, confused. His eyes were open, but he seemed to have difficulty movement following as Kenton rushed to his side. His left eye, once the same shade as a doe’s coat, now matched the shadar-kai’s – a solid black orb, no white, no iris, just a pool of darkness. Kore leaned in close and whispered to Gage, “Listen carefully. We had to choose between you and Brett. Only one could come back.” “And Kenton chose me?” “No, I chose you. But don’t forget, you must live for two from now on.”
The Lady rose and turned to leave. Krehir, still weary, watched her pass near him on her way from the burial chamber. She walked slowly from the chamber, the sunrods dimming with her approach. The Houndmaster followed. When the heroes reached the cross-passage, they could just see her head disappear into the black water of the Dark Mirror.
Our heroes again made ready to leave Knight’s Tomb, Kenton carrying the body of Brett and Valeran helping to support the stumbling Gage. As they prepared to depart the entry room, the Ghost Squire again thanked Valeran for his aid, both in freeing him from the salt barrier and in ridding the tomb of the undead. Val asked what the Squire would do now, and the Squire responded by gesturing to the lesser burial chamber and said, “I shall return to where I belong, at the side of my master.” Krehir noticed that the Squire had not gestured towards the main burial chamber, but instead to the smaller burial chamber that held what was presumed to be his own sarcophagus. Krehir asked of Arlo, “Have you learned everything that you wanted to find here?” Arlo replied calmly, “I have made some sketches, and taken some rubbings, and perhaps in a larger city I can find references to these heraldic symbols. As for me, I am eager to be quit of this place.” Sensing some strange anticipation in Arlo’s voice that ran counter to his words, Krehir pressed him slightly. “Will you not return here?” Arlo responded that he had not the stomach for this place, with what had happened this day, but Krehir was sure that there was something more to Arlo than he would admitted. Why was this hint at a secret burial so interesting to him? Hadn’t he been ever so slightly excited to learn of Knight’s Tomb when our heroes first spoke of it? Sensing this was not the time, Krehir let it drop for now, but his mind continued to ponder the possibilities.
Leaving Knight’s Tomb, it was still morning. Arlo and his retinue began the journey back to Laston. Kenton, carrying Brett’s body. Valeran, helping support Gage as he gradually become more steady on his feet. The trip back to Laston was uneventful, melancholy our heroes’ constant companion during their return. During meals, Kenton would attend to Gage, closely looking after him, but once it was time to continue the journey he would again take up the burden of carrying Brett’s corpse. As they entered the valley of their home, he asked the others to wait for a few minutes. He wanted to go ahead, to enter town first and find Brett’s mother to tell her of her son’s death less she learn of it from some other source first. They agreed, giving him a few minutes to reach Brett’s family’s farm and inform his family of his untimely passing before they carried his body into the town and to the church. Val accompanied Kenton. Meanwhile, Kore and Gwil went to fetch Ione Harborough, the town’s best healer, to look after Gage and determine the severity of his lingering injuries.
Our heroes met again at the church. Brother Simon greeted the news with shock, but quickly saw that Brett’s body was laid out properly in the main chamber of the church. Ione arrived and went to look after Gage. His injuries had been well-tended, but she could make nothing of his strangely altered eye. He appeared to have full vision. Alastrianna arrived at the church and, after a brief discussion, everyone agreed that the town would not learn of Gage’s death and resurrection; instead, the official story would be that he was injured, and his eye some form of battle scar. Alastrianna then began taking everyone aside to hear the story of what had transpired at Knight’s Tomb from each of them privately. Eavesdropping, Kore heard Kenton leave out Kore’s offer of service to the Lady. During their conversation, Kenton and Valeran arrived with Brett’s mother Edith. Her disconsolate wailing drove Arlo and the others from the church, leaving only Brother Simon, Mayor Corliss, and Kenton to attempt to comfort her.
Krehir, looking to turn his mind to other topics, spoke with several people around town, trying to learn if any other carcasses picked clean had been found. While there had been no new discoveries of that sort, he did find several people who reported having seeing odd-colored lights in the mountainsides outside Laston.
The next day, all of Laston turned out for Brett’s funeral. Brother Simon spoke, talking of the sorrow brought about by the loss of a child, and the need for the town to support the Treharne family in this time of need. Alastrianna spoke next, telling about the dangers present in the world outside Laston. Brett died fighting against those dangers; in a sense, she said, he had died in the defense of Laston. The Mayor began speaking next, telling stories of Brett’s life and trying to raise the town’s spirits in this dark time.
Meanwhile, Alastrianna and Kore snuck away from the funeral for a prearranged meeting at the Stag and Hounds. They crept upstairs to Arlo’s room. Kore slipped the lock, than Alastrianna stepped inside. Krehir’s suspicions heavy on her mind, she felt she needed to see if Arlo’s journals held any details that might shed light on his purpose in Laston. Did his interest in Knight’s Tomb extend beyond the historical concerns he claimed? Kore moved outside the tavern, watching in case Arlo should return early. And he did, having left the funeral, unwelcome for the role he played in the events that culminated in Brett’s death. Kore spoke to him briefly, then signaled to Alastrianna. A few seconds later, as Arlo entered the tavern and headed upstairs, Alastrianna appeared outside the inn, her fey nature having carried her from Arlo’s room to the street below. Kore asked if she had found anything of interest, and she replied that she had, but was unsure what it meant. She explained that Arlo had one journal not written in Common. It was in a language she could not read, but she had seen the lettering before. Arlo’s secret journal, concealed in his rented sleeping chamber above the common room of the tavern, was written in Abyssal.
That evening, as Krehir finished up work in his host’s farm, he noticed a peculiar absence of birds in the valley. Climbing a nearby tree, he confirmed they had flown from their nests. He also noticed a slight tremble within the earth. Walking around the valley, he could not locate to source to the intermittent rumbling. Finding Kore, they began to search jointly. They noticed an odd light on a nearby mountainside. Making haste, they left Laston and proceeded towards the strange light. Reaching the source of the light, they discovered some sort of ritual in progress. A druid, his head concealed by a mask made from the painted skull of some ancient and giant kruthik, danced around a blue fire. As he cast a powder into the flames, they turned a bright red. Several small kruthik, each the size of a large dog, sat around the fire, mesmerized. A larger kruthik, similarly focused on the druid’s undulations, sat nearby.
Fearing this threat to Laston, Kore and Krehir crept forward, then struck. Kore took out the nearest kruthik, a hatchling, while Krehir moved forward and engaged the kruthik adult. More hatchlings moved from the surrounding woods, while the druid also moved to defend himself from the heroes’ assault. With a gesture, a flame shaped like a small hawk flew from the campfire towards Kore to harry him. As the two heroes continued to dispatch the hatchlings, they also moved closer to the druid. In an effort to defend himself, the druid commanded the grass and underbrush to come to his aid, and soon the grasses began to grapple at the heroes, slowing their movement and sliding them towards the dangerous campfire. The druid then took on another form, that of a towering cylinder of smoke and burning cinders, that offered him some protection from the heroes’ metal weapons. But our heroes were not to be denied, and finally Krehir was able to land a telling blow on the druid. His mask was knocked from his head, to land in the fire. Immediately, the nearest kruthik hatchling began to see him as another enemy, turning on its former master. Soon, the druid found himself backed into a corner, with no obvious avenue of escape. Realizing he was bested, the druid said, “Peace, friend. I yield before your superior might.” Who is this druid? Why has he incited the kruthik? What were his plans for Laston?
January 6, 2011 18:00
In which our heroes must come to the defense of Laston itself
On a hillside east of Laston, Kore and Krehir spoke with the druid. Quite willing to speak to his captors, he was forthcoming on a number of topics.
“I hail from the southern continent, a place called the Bezndrik Desert I was a member of a wandering tribe. I learned the secret of controlling the kruthik from my grandfather, a great mwa’a’lish, who used this ability to ward off wandering kruthik and protect our bayt (household). My brother and I quarreled over a woman we both wanted to take as wife. We had a ceremonial duel, which my brother won. I left my bayt rather than stay and suffer the humiliation of defeat.
“During my journey, I stumbled across a great number of the kruthik and took shelter in a cave. But luck was not my friend, for the place I had reached was a great breeding-ground for the kruthik, and the cave, though large, had only one exit. My magics could not influence so many kruthik, and so I was trapped. I tried to wait them out, but they stayed for many days and I eventually began to run low on water. The Dying Wind was coming for me, so I began to commune with the spirit of the cave in the hope that it would show me another way out.
“The spirit of the cave granted me a vision, of a ritual that had once been performed by a powerful mwa’a’lish in this valley. He wore the skull of a giant kruthik, painted with symbols. He summoned a plume of smoke and spoke to the kruthik. He commanded them to depart, and they obeyed. Waking from this vision, I gave many thanks to the spirit of the cave and found the skull of an ancient kruthik. I painted the skull as I had seen in my vision and then I performed this same ritual. The kruthik left the valley, and I was free to go.
“I traveled the lands for many months. I heard stories of your Burning Lands, full of great mountains of fire, and I longed to make a pact with the spirit of a great fire-mount. Then, I could return and take a place of great importance within the bayt. My defeat would be lost within the glory of this new learning I could bring back to my bayt.
“While stopping through your lands, in a place called Farmington, I met a strange man. He asked about my life, and I gladly shared my story with him. When I spoke of the kruthik, he became very interested. He asked if I could get the kruthik to do more than depart a place, and I told him that I truly do not know. In the Bezndrik, the kruthik are vicious, even more so than here, and driving them away from my bayt was the gift I learned from . He told me a breeding ground of the kruthik here in the mountains, and asked me to turn them against a bayt that opposes his own. He offered me a malik’s fortune for this task, and so I came here. And that is my story.”
When asked about the man who has offered his this fortune, he said, “He was not the head of his bayt. I took him for a lesser brother, for he had to consult with another before he could seal the bargain. He seemed to be one who sees to the desires of others. Oh, physical appearance? He was one of your small men, how do you say, ‘halfling’?. He had a large black mark upon his face, a crescent moon over his right eye.”
Neither Krehir nor Kore knew of this man with the mark of the moon upon his face. Why would anyone seek the destruction of Laston, least of all someone from distant Farmington? But the druid told them more; the kruthik were already on their way to Laston, and he had no way to control them now that his mask had been destroyed in the fire. Anxiously, they ran back to Laston.
Meanwhile, our other heroes were enjoying a pleasant dinner at the local tavern, the Stag and Hounds. Arlo had asked Beld to get them all together; he wanted to offer them his final thanks (and final pay) before he returned home to Trelgar. Upon their arrival at the tavern, they noticed Arlo at a small table in the back, the other tables filled with patrons. While he seemed excited when they first saw him, once he noticed them he took on a more subdued manner. Paying them the remainder of their due, he apologized for being unable to offer them a more lucrative reward, but having given Brett’s mother a substantial donation his funds were running low. He said he intended to return to Trelgar, the death of Brett heavy on his mind, but he didn’t seem sincere. He further claimed to be tired, and feeling no longer welcome in Laston after his role in Brett’s death he intended to retire for the evening. He invited our heroes to enjoy the remainder of the evening by having dinner here at the tavern. Leaving them his table, he retired upstairs.
Noticing Roon, a fellow trapper who had some difficulty with the hangmen boggarts north of Laston, Glia when to speak to him. He was dismissive, engaged in a conversation with a traveling merchant, and Glia returned to her seat but kept an ear fixed to their direction. She overheard the trapper talking to the dwarf, a pottery merchant newly arrived in Laston named Goran Claysmith, and heard Roon say, “I can sneak them around Laston and deliver them to the your men on the road to Pinecrest, but after that it’s your responsibility.” Goran agreed to this bargain and left. What goods could Roon need to sneak through town?
Before Kore and Krehir could return to Laston with a warning of the impending danger, there seemed to be a slight earthquake. But as those in the tavern rose from the seats, they learned this was no natural event, for with a great shudder kruthik erupted from the floor of the Stag and Hounds. Moving quickly, our heroes sought to engage the emerging kruthik while guiding the panicked townsfolk to safety. While a couple of the townsfolk were severely wounded, our heroes were able to save the injured and defeat the kruthik just as Kore and Krehir arrived, the strange druid in tow.
Leaving the tavern, our heroes saw that smoke covered much of the streets of Laston. Nearby, yelling could to be heard, urging everyone to form a fire brigade. Calyd Cenn’s smokehouse was on fire. As they want to assist, they discovered that kruthik stumbled around in the smoke, confusedly, while nearby Calyd emerged from his home, which was engulfed in flames. When she heard that their youngest was still inside, Glia charged into the burning building while those outside dealt with the dual threat of the fire and the kruthik coming to their senses.
Inside the burning building, smoke prevented Glia from seeing more than a few feet. She listened carefully and heard the faint sound of a crying baby over the sounds of the fire, and trusting to her memory of her visits to the Cenn house she quickly made her way to the baby just as the burning ceiling collapsed over the front door. Taking the child to the back door, she found that exit blocked. Seeing no other choice, Glia climbed up a burning, half-fallen roof beam to the top of the house, then jumped to a neighboring roof before climbing down. Calyd’s wife was very happy to have her child back safe and sound.
Meanwhile, the fight against the kruthik raged on in the streets of Laston. The thick smoke clouded everything, making it difficult to tell friend from foe. Valeran might have fallen, were it not for some timely assistance from both Alastrianna and Ione. As Valeran charged through the smoke, Kore noticed something never before seen – the appearance of a fiery halo on the young swordmage – but the battle quickly pulled them apart. Just as the last of the kruthik were killed, the church bell started ringing – not the rhythmic tolling that calls everyone to church, but a frenzied chiming born of panic.
The first to arrive at the church, Gwil saw a giant kruthik, most likely the hive lord, but it disappeared underground just as she arrived. As the heroes moved closer to investigate, they ran into a couple of adult kruthik. At Kore’s direction, the druid began doing what he could to drive off the kruthik. As the heroes engaged the adult kruthik, the hive lord burrowed up from belowground, a number of smaller kruthik climbing from the tunnel behind him, to join the fray. Exhausted from their recent fights, with no time to catch their breath between, the battle proved challenging but our heroes were victorious, finally slaying the hive lord.
Will the druid’s ritual be potent enough to drive off the remaining kruthik, without his mask? How has the rest of the town fared during the attack? And what could anyone have against the fair village of Laston to warrant such a grievous attack in the first place?
January 13, 2011 18:00
In which our heroes must face great danger to rescue those lost
As the druid finishes his ritual, it did indeed seem that the remaining kruthik were dispersing even while the townsfolk of Laston continued to hunt them down. Taking a moment to finally catch their breath, our heroes’ respite was broken by the arrival of two girls – Nessie and Jessie Currie, who live between Beld’s family and Joseph Warwick’s farm. Notorious gossips, each prone to repeating what the other said, they bore bad news – kruthik had grabbed members of Beld’s family and dragged them into a tunnel. Our heroes set out immediately for Beld’s home, arriving to find a large tunnel behind a shed that led into the very side of the valley.
Entering the kruthik tunnel, with the protesting smoke druid in tow, our heroes navigated the twisting passages newly carved by the kruthik, following the tracks left by the kruthik as they took the dwarves deeper into the earth. Over time, they began to see signs of natural passages mixed in with the kruthik tunnels; they must have discovered this natural formation and decided to expand upon it for a hive.
Finally, our heroes came to a steep slope. Securing a rope to a piton, they climbed down the slope to discover a kruthik busy expanding the tunnels. Interrupted, it turned and attacked them, supported by a number of smaller kruthik. Krehir squared off against the kruthik tunneler, keeping in backing into a corner, while the others made quick work of those kruthik they could reach. One kruthik, largely hidden behind a curtain wall with several small holes in it, continued to pelt them with venomous spikes until it was finally slain by a well-placed blow through the curtain. Our heroes then finished off the kruthik tunneler, only to discover that the druid had fled during the fray. Having climbed up the steep slope using the rope, he had left it in its place. After some brief debate, the heroes determined that they could not risk the time to hunt the druid down and continued on their search for Beld’s family.
After a bit more travel through the tunnels, our heroes came to a massive natural cavern. Roughly circular and just over a hundred feet across, a series of ledges led down to the floor below. Piled in the center of the cavern floor was a pile of dirt and rock, formed by the kruthik and attended by three kruthik young Atop the rock pile, nestled into a depression shaped similarly to a caldera, lay the hive’s queen. Larger than a horse, her long back was entirely covered in green slime and semi-transparent egg sacs. Most of the sacs held tiny kruthik, not quite ready to hatch, but some held larger shapes, dwarves, feebly struggling to free themselves from inside the sacs where they were surely to be food for the newborns.
Glia wasted no time in acting, deftly jumping down both ledges and attacking the nearest of the kruthik young. Intent on freeing the dwarves, Krehir attempted to replicate this feat, with lesser success. After landing badly, he showed the indomitable spirit of the goliath as he refused to be denied and, with a heroic surge, charged up the rock pile and landed a very heavy blow on the kruthik hive queen. In turn, she kicked him down the slope to the floor and unleashed an acidic cloud on the majority of the heroes still standing on the outermost ledge. The green mist hung in the air, threatening the heroes, who tried to move away as quickly as possible. Beld, fearful of a descent down the ledges, remained up top while Kore moved down to engage the kruthik young on the cavern floor with Glia.
Climbing down to the cavern floor, Valeran inscribed a glowing rune in the air before one of the kruthik young to mark it as his chosen foe. Then, faster than the eye could follow, Valeran seemed to be both on the cavern floor attacking the kruthik young and on the top of the rock pile, attacking the hive queen and landing another telling blow on the hive queen. When his chosen foe attempted to attack Glia, Valeran sprung back to her side.
However, the battle seemed to be slowly slipping away from our heroes. Krehir again ascended the slope to attack the hive queen, but failed to connect with his mordenkrad. She tried to again kick him down the slope, but when that failed she delivered a massive blow that sent the young goliath spinning, unconscious, onto the cavern floor below. More small kruthik joined the fray, hemming in the heroes on the cavern floor, and the situation looked dire. But ever resilient, our heroes were not to be denied their victory this day. Beld called upon a pair of predatory spirits, who slew the two remaining kruthik young. Other heroes dispatched the nearby smaller kruthik, while Kore turned his attention to the hive queen. With a well-placed strike, the hive queen was felled by a thrown dagger that entered her skull through her eye socket and she slumped to the ground. The remaining kruthik were no match now that the battlefield had turned so suddenly in our heroes’ favor.
Freeing Beld’s mother and two siblings from their ichorous prison, the heroes returned with the dwarves to the surface. They encountered a few kruthik along the way, but they appeared so disturbed by the death of the hive queen that they were quickly fleeing from their new hive. Arriving at the surface, they learned that while many of the townsfolk were injured by the kruthik, there had been no fatalities.
And so this story draws to a close, but questions remain. What happened to Arlo Frinazi, who was eager to explore the countryside until the fateful encounter at Knight’s Tomb? What to make of this fiery halo that Kore had seen but briefly on his cousin Valeran? And perhaps most importantly, who was this man with the mark of the crescent moon over his right eye who had sent the druid to destroy idyllic Laston?