Having returned from the confusing Feywild, our heroes travel from Skipjot’s warren to Auntie Elspeth’s valley. Arriving just as dusk sets in, they were greeted warmly by both the druid Mwgu and Auntie Elspeth. They recounted their tale to Elspeth, who was shocked to learn of the eladrin Baroness who bore such a striking physical resemblance to her but seemed to lack both kindness and decency. Nor could Elspeth fathom any reason why the trapper Roon would have been taking boggarts prisoner in the first place. Resting in her valley overnight, our heroes set out early in the morning on the return trip to Laston, the druid once again in tow. Once home, after an uneventful trip, our heroes parted company.
Over the next few days, Glia checked in with her uncle Grek, asking what he knew about Roon, and where the trapper lived. He directed her to Roon’s home just north of the valley, and inquired why she was so interested. Glia’s evasive answers might have sparked some curiosity in her uncle, but he asked no further questions. She departed her uncle’s home, intent on sneaking off to Roon’s soon. That evening, she crept from Laston to the trapper’s small home. Carefully making her way past a few traps left to catch the unwary, she entered the dead trapper’s home and searched for anything that could explain his capturing of the boggarts. She would leave without answers, but not without some reward for her efforts, for hidden under a heavy rug was a small box containing a small pile of gold. Taking her newfound treasure with her, Glia left Roon’s house in the same state she had found it, the townsfolk still unaware of his death at the dolmen gate.
Meanwhile, Gwil checked in with Brother Simon at the church. He excitedly explained that he had repaired the still, and was once more making poitin. Gwil would spend the next couple of days checking up on those wounded in the kruthik attack, tending to their injuring and doing what she could to insure they healed properly. Krehir checked in on Joseph Warwick and his family to find them faring well. Beld’s family also fared well, although they were cautious of the tunnels the kruthik had enlarged that let out onto their property.
Valeran returned home, and told Harvel of his encounter with the owlbear and the deal struck by Kore and Glia to have the Baroness return him. He also spoke of his experiences as his soul traveled through the Shadowfell to receive judgment. Harvel listened intently, and eventually shared a story of his own. Many, many years ago, before Harvel had lost his sight, he had journeyed from his home in the Iron Hills to the distant Elven Kingdoms on the eastern shores of the continent. While traveling through that land, he was killed by a wyvern. His soul traveling to the Shadowfell, he found himself walking on a great grey plain of ash for what seemed to be days before he reached a large black stone citadel. Once inside, he stood before Jakariel the Claimer, who stared down at him from a massive throne for a moment before gesturing toward an open passage from the chamber and telling him he could enter the feasting hall of Tabor Steadfast, whose teachings Harvel favored above all others’. Harvel turned and left the chamber, but just as he stepped out of the citadel for a journey he instinctively knew how to make, he felt a pulling deep within. Following that where it led him, he once more walked across the endless ashen plain until he came to a bright light, a portal that returned him to the mortal world where an elven priest had performed a ritual upon him to invite his spirit back from the land of the dead. And thus Harvel had his first trip into the Shadowfell, a journey he hoped not to retrace for many years to come.
Kore sought out Alastrianna. Telling her his tale, he questioned her on her captivity at the hands of the Baroness and her subsequent escape. She confirmed his suspicion that it was Dawn Villestre, along with her half-elven husband, who had freed her from the Baroness’ prison. Kore pressed her, asking why she had found herself imprisoned in the first place. The Baroness had said she was caught trying to steal something of great value from her; could that be true? Alastrianna was quiet for a second, then confirmed the story the Baroness had told. She had traveled to Mondref, intent on obtaining a magical jewel that could be used to empower a ritual, and when the Baroness refused any bargain for the gem she had no choice but to steal it. Caught in the attempt, she spent quite some time in the Baroness’ dungeon before she was finally rescued by her friends. Kore tried to learn more of this jewel and the ritual, but Alastrianna reticence finally convinced him to leave it be, at least for now. Kore also told Alastrianna of Valeran’s death and rebirth, after which the reeve quickly excused herself to check on her protégé.
After a couple of quiet days spend recovering from their travels, our heroes received a letter from Stoneroad. The Baron Greenspire had received the missive explaining the recent kruthik attack and the role Mwgu had played in it, and now asked that the prisoner be brought to him. This sparked quite a bit of debate within the group. How should they proceed? If they delivered the druid to the Baron directly, he would likely be hung for his actions. But even if the Baron decided to keep the druid alive for a time, hoping to have him identify the halfling with the mark of a crescent moon above his right eye, what use would that be to Laston? Should they not proceed to Farmington directly, taking the druid with them and hoping to find this man who harbored a grudge against Laston? Would it not be better to use the druid now, while he is still in their hands, than take him to the Baron for imprisonment, if not a quick death? And did the druid deserve any chance at redemption, having harbored no ill towards Laston of his own, and having been useful to the town since his capture? Should he even be given any opportunity to redeem himself? After much debate, our heroes decided to follow the Baron’s orders at written. They would travel to Stoneroad, bringing the druid with them, to face whatever judgment the Baron handed out. But before delivering him to the Baron in Stoneroad, they would take the druid on to Farmington. And what if the passage to Farmington goes through Stoneroad along the way? The Baron had not demanded they arrive within any given time. This allowed them more opportunity to decide how to approach the Baron. Should they ask for mercy for the druid? No decision could be reached on that front, but hopefully, the trip to Farmington would enable them to find this mysterious man and bring him, along with the druid, to the Baron’s justice. The trip to Farmington and then back to Stoneroad would take at least a fortnight, and likely several days longer, so they wasted no time. Informing no one of the full plan, they told the Mayor and the reeve that they intended to leave the next day for Stoneroad. Before they departed, the Mayor gave Valeran a sturdy lockbox, containing the annual taxes from Laston, to be delivered to the Baron as well.
As the heroes left Laston, they decided to seek out a faster means of travel to see if they cut short their long trip. Arriving just before nightfall at Pinecrest, a town barely larger than Laston, they arranged for a room at the inn and asked around about opportunities to travel down the Gwynedd River instead of beside it. Eventually, Glia located a logger who was about to float a large number of freshly-hewn trees down to Millston, passing through Stoneroad on the way. Hiring on for the trip would provide meager wages but would shorten their journey, and so the next morning they found themselves learning how to drive logs down the river, poling them around obstacles and keeping them together as best they could.
The trip from Laston to Stoneroad, a trip of four days by foot, was shortened by their new conveyance. Streams flush with runoff from the winter snows poured into the Gwynedd, making for a brisk pace. By late afternoon of the third day out of Laston their new employer told them they would be stopping an hour outside Stoneroad for the night, and continuing through town and on to Millston the next morning. But before they could reach their planned resting point, a number of the logs jammed upon some rocks. As the first pole-man reached the rocks, a serpentine head broke the surface of the water. Perhaps the size of a horse’s head, it grabbed him with its large teeth and quickly disappeared under the surface with its prey.
The heroes moved into action, trying to locate the source of the attack upon the crew of the log drive. Krehir dove into the water to see if he could save the poor soul. Before he could reach the rocks, a serpentine head broke the surface of the water, soon followed by three more. Krehir swam towards the serpents, striking at them with his massive craghammer. Kore, Glia, and Valeran all closed the distance, while Beld and Gwil hung back. The serpents snapped their massive jaws at anyone who came close, making it painful to attack them, but the heroes were resolute. Plunging into their midst, Valeran and the others soon found themselves in a drawn-out struggle. While the serpents had difficulty piercing the defenses of the heroes, the heroes themselves were wary of the serpents’ thrashing about. On more than one occasion a hero was caught in the teeth of one serpent only to have another try to rip them away. Mwgu longed to help in this battle, but without his totem he could not draw upon his connection to the primal spirits. Instead, he safeguarded the tax chest as Kore instructed. The number of serpents grew, for as soon as one of our intrepid heroes dropped one of the large beasts two smaller ones surfaced and joined the fray. As the third of the original four serpents was felled by a blow from Gwil, who rained bolts of radiance upon them from a distance, the serpents retreated to the safety of the churning waters.
Just as the heroes took a breath, the water near Gwil erupted. This was no pack of water-serpents; this was a river hydra, a loathsome beast that drags its prey into the currents to be devoured at its leisure. Implacable like the river itself, as soon as one head is cut off two new ones begin to spring forth from its severed neck. And indeed, although it was grievously wounded by the heroes’ assault, the hydra would not turn from its intended meal. It threw aside the log upon which Gwil stood and snatched her up in its jaws. But before it could make a meal of the elf, Valeran reached the beast. Calling upon every resource within himself, he swung at the creature with his weapon. The blade of the axe lit up with flame, which the other heroes has seen him command before, and fiery sparks flew as his blow struck home. But this time, fire was not all that answered the young swordmage’s bidding. Along with the yellow and red flames that leapt from the wound, purple-black necrotic energy trailed from the head of the axe to the great rend in the flesh of the hydra, drawing forth the beast’s very essence as it fell dead upon the rock. Valeran stood, gazing down upon the body of the dead hydra, a fiery crown appearing over his head.
in which our heroes find both danger and answers on the road
Searching around for further danger and finding none, our heroes took a few moments to catch their breath. Krehir took a trophy from the fallen hydra, as is his custom, as the remaining pole-man arrived and saw the beast that had claimed one of their own. Luckily, only a single soul had perished in the beast’s many maws. And so, once the logjam was cleared, the journey down the Gwynedd River continued.
A hour later our heroes found themselves reaching their campsite for the night. Tomorrow would bring them to Stoneroad, and after some discussion they laid out a plan. Rather than carry Laston’s taxes along their journey of uncertain destination, they would send a couple of their number who would pay the Baron his lawful due, then rejoin the remainder of the group on the far side of Stoneroad. And so as they approached the Baron Greenspire’s town the next morning, Valeran and Gwil said their brief goodbyes to their comrades and took their leave of the drive master. He paid them each two gold, twice the agreed-upon price, for their service, wishing he could spare more but his proceeds must now go to the widow and children of the man who lost his life during the journey.
Making their way into town, Valeran and Gwil saw that it was much larger than Laston, almost twice the size with so many gone to fight in the war. And dozens upon dozens of dwarves here, plying their wares! Quite unlike their home. They cast about and found the Baron’s estate, upon which stood a small keep. Announcing themselves as carriers of taxes from an outlying town, they made their way past the guard to the Exchequer, a halfling whose low-ceilinged room was lines with ledgers tracking payments and expenses for the Baron. They paid their taxes and asked for a receipt, which seemed to take the Exchequer aback, but he happily complied and they quickly turned to leave the Baron’s town and reunite with their friends.
However, a chance encounter in a hallway would provide some short detour for them. As they rounded a corner they very nearly collided with a well-appointed man of some 24 years. Valeran, despite having never met this man, recognized him from his description as none other than the heir to the Barony, Stafford. As quick words of apology were exchanged on both sides, Stafford asked for their names. Upon learning that they hailed from Laston, he pressed then into joining him for a brief morning repast to supplement their trail rations from breakfast before they left town later that very day. And so a few minutes later the swordmage and elf found themselves having a fine light meal with the heir to the barony. While they enjoyed the food, Stafford asked for their assistance in a delicate matter. King Gerrard was torn between two approaches to fighting the war. The Baron Greenspire advocated a defensive approach that protected the outlying villages from the barbarian outriders, spreading out the troops to form a defensive line. Meanwhile, the Baron Coluddyn advocated massing the troops and marching directly at the center of the barbarians, hoping to strike a decisive blow that would fragment the tribes and end their temporary alliance. Stafford, and his father, felt that their cause would profit greatly if only Alastrianna, Laston’s reeve, would return to her former position within the King’s court and provide her own advice in this matter. Stafford asked for Gwil and Valeran’s assistance in convincing the reeve that she could do much for the kingdom if she would consent to advise the King in this matter, and thanked them profusely for their promised assistance before departing.
A couple of hours later, their delivery completed, our band of heroes were reunited on the east side of Stoneroad. Those remaining with the log drive had taken their leave, accompanied by the same payment and apologies that Gwil and Valeran had enjoyed. An additional basket of food, pressed into their hands by Stafford’s order, provided a welcome lunch as they set out by foot towards the Coluddyn barony that borders their own. Mid-afternoon, they encountered another band of travelled, heading towards Stoneroad. It was a small number of merchants, accompanied by the merry troubadour Marrick of Southglen. He was bringing letters as we as news from the war deeper into the Rivertowns, and he happily provided the heroes with a brief update on the war.
While his forces were holding up, the war appeared to be going against the King. The orc war-chief Curoc had been sending small groups of barbarian raiders to slip through the defensive lines and raid unprotected villages. So far, most of these raids had produced few casualties, but their making off with livestock could eventually threaten the food supply for the army. These incursions had reached as far as the Black Forest, somewhat south of the Gwynedd but not accessible to the river itself due to the rough terrain. Kore asked what Marrick could tell him of Alastrianna; in particular, did he know what position she had once occupied at Court? The troubadour complied, explaining that many years ago the eladrin had saved the then-King’s life some 120 years ago, and then gone on to serve as general for the King’s army for some 70 years before retiring. As someone who had served his family for generations, King Gerrard would surely welcome her advice and likely bow to her wisdom in matters of war.
Marrick also cautioned them about bandits operating on the road between the two baronies. They preyed on travelers displaying wealth, using the tension between the two Barons to their advantage. When one’s soldiers would ride out to drive them off, they would retreat into the other Barony, where the soldiers would be loathe to follow lest they agitate the other Baron. And so warned, and with the sun still in the sky and an open road ahead, our heroes said their goodbyes to the traveling minstrel and continued on their journey.
After resting for the night at a well-used campsite beside the road, the journey continued. A few hours later, they came across a few men trying to repair a wagon that had broken a wheel. They had already begun unloading boxes so that they replace the wheel, a labor-intensive and tiresome task. Gwil and Valeran were ready to assist, approaching the wagon, when a few of the others noticed something askance with this situation. Why did there not seem to be enough crates from this wagon? Didn’t the wagon seem to be ill-repaired and unfit for use regardless of the broken wheel? Before they could give a warning, an human man armed with both sword and dagger stepped out from behind the wagon as a couple of the workers drew blades. The leader stepped forward, introducing himself. “I am Lladrad, and those who travel this road must pay me and mine for its use. Please divest yourselves of what valuables you carry, and you can be on your way.” Kore explained that they had no wealth or valuables, but Lladrad refused to believe them, judging their bravado as the result of their apparent youth. He turned to Mwgu and repeated his request, but the druid only said, “These are not my charges, my friend. You must deal with them directly.” Kore, realizing that the bandits would likely resort to violence, tossed Mwgu his totem and told him he would likely need this.
Seeing the young dwarf toss something to the southerner set the bandits into action. Two archers, one positioned on either side of the road under the cover of the trees, fired arrows at Mwgu. Both found their home, leaving a pair of wounds on the bleeding druid. Lladrad slid forward smoothly, slashing at Valeran with his longsword while stabbing Gwil with his slender dagger. The next few minutes was a confusing rush of activity as more bandits emerged from hiding behind the wagon while the heroes moved to engage. A tiefling emerged from the wagon, his race apparent from the large, curves ram’s horns that adorned his head, the result of unholy union of demon and woman in times long since past. He gestured with his rod, and cracks formed in the ground beneath the heroes’ feet, wisps of an oily black mist seeping up and rendering the heroes light-headed. But shaking off the effects of the mist, the heroes fought back bravely. A few quick blows to Lladrad rendered him unconscious. The tiefling gestured with his rod again, and flame leapt from its tip to land upon Kore. Burning, he fought on, dropping another bandit and then approaching the tiefling. The archers in the tree line continued to rain down arrows, focusing on Gwil and Beld who seemed to be bolstering their allies. Both took heavy damage, Beld losing consciousness ever so briefly as an arrow caught him in the head, tearing open his scalp. Kore attacked the tiefling, who teleported away in a burst of flame. Valeran dropped another bandit teleported himself, arriving adjacent to one of the archers. With no room to maneuver in the woods, the archer had no choice but to drop his shortbow and draw a blade to defend himself, but he would prove far less effective without his preferred weapon. Soon, the bandits were unconscious save for the tiefling. But even as the heroes turned to focus on him he teleported once again, this time out of sight, and despite their efforts the heroes could not locate him.
Tying up the bandits, Kore woke the leader Lladrad and questioned him. He explained that they had joined together last fall, but winter had put a temporary halt to their nascent activities until spring arrived. After being questioned about the location of their camp, the bandits walked, bound hand and foot, for a few miles until Lladrad pointed out what appeared to be a game trail crossing the road. Following it a short distance, they encountered a small ravine wherein lay the makeshift camp of the bandits. A thorough search turned up little of monetary value – the bandits having most likely squandered whatever valuables they had stolen from their rightful owners – but they did locate a black leather pouch that Lladrad was said belonged to the tiefling, whose name was Diawlio. Opening the pouch, they found a letter written in the same language as Arlo’s journal – Abyssal, a tongue little used in civilized lands. In fact, the letter bore a seal. Though now broken, it seemed to be the Arlo’s own seal. They questioned the bandits on the tiefling, asking what they knew of him and whether he had ever mentioned Laston, but the bandits all agreed that the tiefling had joined them but recently, only a few weeks ago, and was likely only pausing to make some easy profit before continuing to the west into the Greenspire barony. Finally, the heroes fell to discussing what to do with the bandits next. During questioning, it seemed that the bandits had not harmed those who did not resist, but how much mercy (if any) did they deserve? Should the bandits just be killed now? The punishment for banditry, in practically all lands, is death by hanging. Surely the reeve in Millston would send them to the gallows, or perhaps worse if rumors of the cruelty in the Coluddyn barony were true. Turning the bandits into the reeve could result in some reward, but would certainly end in the bandits’ deaths. Could they perhaps be forced to join the ranks of the King’s army to pay restitution for their crimes?
Hearing this conversation, the bandit leader Lladrad asked to speak with the heroes in private. Immediately, the other bandits began to protest, yelling and spitting upon him, but the heroes took him aside to speak as he had asked. He offered a deal – he would tell them something of great interest to them in exchange for his freedom. The heroes would make no such promises, but eventually assured Lladrad that he would receive something in exchange. And so he told them of a man named Cidum, a soldier, who had suggested this plan of banditry to him in the first place, and provided money to use in hiring the others. Lladrad had later asked around about the man’s livery and learned that it belongs to the Arlain of Blackfork. An arlain is a hereditary lord who owns land and has sworn fealty to a Baron. Laston had an arlain long ago, but that family had long since fallen and been replaced by an appointed Mayor. The village of Blackfork lies to the northeast, on this side of the Slumbering King, in the lands of the Baron Coluddyn. Lladrad argued that this information must be useful to them, for why would an arlain’s soldier try to stir up trouble between the two Barons? The heroes returned the bandit to the company of his companions while they continued to debate how best to deal with them. And then Valeran asked, for his knowledge, what this Cidum looked like. Lladrad responded, “He is a halfling, powerfully built, with the mark of a crescent moon over his right eye.”
Who is this soldier who seeks to stir up trouble near the border of the barony? Any why would he have hired the druid to launch a kruthik assault on Laston, a town he may well have never visited? What foul plan had our heroes stumbled upon that threatened their home?
in which our heroes try to untangle the threat to their home of Laston
After some debate over the best course to take with this new information, our heroes decided to take the bandits to nearby Millston and have them enlist in the army. A few hours later, just before dark, they arrived in Millston. A fair bit larger than their home of Laston, Millston lies on the steepest part of the Gwynedd’s path. A series of waterfalls requires portaging of any goods brought from further up in the Rivertowns; this combined with the waterfalls themselves made the area an ideal place for the construction of the mills that gave the town its name. They took their prisoners to the local reeve, who greeted them warmly once he realized their intentions. He offered to arrange for sleeping space for the enlistees in the stable of the local inn, and our heroes got rooms in the inn for themselves and rested for the evening.
In the morning, they set about discovering what they could from the locals in Millston about the village of Blackfork. Kore wandered the town square, speaking with the merchants, but could learn no news of immediate interest. He did learn that a dwarven pottery merchant, mostly likely his friend Goran, had passed through Millston a few days prior, headed west. Gwil and Valeran spoke with the reeve and the local priest, but they knew little of the place. Blackfork lies north of the Gwynedd River between Millston and Meadowbrook. They rarely bring goods to Millston or come here to trade, preferring the gentler travel to and from Meadowbrook. Like many isolated villages they do not have a priest of their own, but a traveling priest visits them periodically. Glia spent the morning at the inn, speaking with the locals and those merchants who came in to eat. Seeing a group of halflings, she wandered over and bought them a round of drinks despite the early hour. They engaged in conversation, the increasingly-inebriated Glia entertaining them with tales of her adventures. When she mentioned the name Cidum and that he might be involved in the attack on Laston, the halflings grew quiet. One whispered that she might want to keep such thoughts to herself. Glia asked what the halfling meant, and he responded that Cidum was the arlain of Blackfork, and even petty nobles don’t like their named being mentioned in such contexts.
The heroes met at the inn for lunch, and Glia shared her newfound information with them. Discussing the possible courses of action, they decided to proceed to Blackfork. Gwil purchased some some goods they could take with them, mostly mining supplies and bolts of cloth, to use as a pretext for visiting the town. Thus equipped, they set with the druid Mwgu the next morning for the town of Blackfork.
Travel went well the first day, with Beld and Gwil guiding the group in what they believe to be the correct direction. They descended a series of narrow switchback roads to make their way from Millston, then walked through the mountains. Nearer to the southern edge of the Four Kings, the terrain gave way from rolling mountains to steep-walled, twisting, narrow valleys, some a mile wide or more but many only a few hundred feet across. Several times they had to double back in this maze-like terrain, finding the way forward too treacherous. This continued into the second day, when they were passing through one such steep-walled valley filled with tall spires of stone. There, from the north, they heard the faint sound of a baby crying.
Glia crept forward stealthily and discovered a reptilian beast, the same size as she, sitting near the northern edge of the valley. It opened its mouth and again cried out, sounding very much like a human child. Satisfied this was no innocent in need, Glia returned to the others. They quickly decided to avoid the beast and made their way along the southern edge of the valley. Their attempts at stealth were defeated when both Valeran and Beld slipped on the rocky floor of the valley. They quickly heard the sound of movement from around the tall stone spires and readied themselves.
As the first of the lizards arrived, several of the heroes recognized the creatures. They were young destrachan. Lacking eyes, they use sound to navigate much like bats, and have been known to imitate other creatures to lure in prey. Moving in, the young beasts swarmed towards the heroes. Kore, looking about, found both the adults closing in. The female, clinging to one of the spires, unleashed a bellowing blast that momentarily dazed both Beld and Gwil. A bola from Kore found its mark, tangling the legs of the mother and sending her crashing to the ground. The other heroes also sprang into action, quickly taking the mother and the closest young down. The young destrachan were strong, but unbalanced. When their blows found home they dealt significant damage to the heroes, but their attacks seldom landed. The father of the herd arrived a few seconds later. Larger and more powerfully built, he proved rather more dangerous than his offspring, but he too was soon dealt with. Some thirty seconds after the first destrachan appeared, they all lay dead upon the ground, no longer a threat to those who would travel through these lands.
wherein our heroes learn what befalls the arlain’s enemies
As afternoon wore on the following day, strong winds blowing in from the East brought with them dark clouds, threatening an early darkness and heavy rains. Looking about, our heroes found shelter in the lee side of a steep hill where a thick grove evergreens of offered some protection from the coming rains and quickly set about cooking dinner before the prospect of a warming fire dwindled. The clouds arrives, darkening the sky hours before sunset. The rain followed soon after, a torrential downpour that reduced visibility to a scant few dozen feet. But in the background, Glia and Kore heard the sound of a woman calling out. After their encounter the previous day they were loathe to investigate, but Valeran could not look past the potential for there being someone in genuine distress and went to investigate. The others followed somewhat reluctantly, keeping him in sight less they lose him altogether in the heavy rains, as he carefully made his way to the east.
Soon Valeran reached a low stone wall some three feet in height. A hundred feet away he saw a cluster of small buildings in front of a ruined church. As he approached, he saw a pair of boots disappear as someone was dragged into the small building to the north while someone else pulled a young girl into the building to the south. In the door of the ruined church was a woman, calling out names, while a man struggled to pull her into the safety of the church. Valeran rushed to the aid of the closest in need, the man whose boots he had seen, as the others entered the boundary of this small village.
As Valeran reached the small home, he saw several shapes huddled over the unconscious man. These had once been human, but no more. Whatever spark of life they had once possessed had been torn from them, leaving only the residue of a deep hunger that the darkness which dwells in the Shadowfell could fill, reanimating them as ghouls. Valeran charged into their midst, unsure if the blood covering the unconscious man was his lifeblood or simply a grievous wound, elemental energies rising to his will as he struck at the undead.
Glia, not even slowing as she leapt as the stone wall whose height matched her own, ran to the far side of the southern building. Behind it, she saw several more ghouls emerging from a dilapidated stone shed, perhaps once a companion to the ruined church. Running forward, she sliced the arm off one at the elbow, but the creature still stood and clawed back at her with its remaining filthy hand.
As the other heroes crossed over the wall, followed by the druid Mwgu, even more ghouls emerged from the three buildings in front of the church. Soon, a frenzied battle was being waged. The ghoul packleader charged at Kore, its claws tearing into his flesh and leaving him momentarily paralyzed. But Kore was not helpless. Drawing upon his own connection to the Shadowfell, shadows deepened around him momentarily. As the shadows dispersed, Kore was no longer on the in the small green between buildings but on the rooftop of the southern building. But he would not be alone, for one of the lesser ghouls would soon scramble on top of the water-slickened roof to assail him.
Glia faced off against a pair of ghouls, one a lesser ghoul and the other a hulking mass of undead flesh that flailed at her with massive fists. Ducking under their blows, she managed to evade their attacks and strike back at them, but found it difficult to gain the upper hand without allies to hamper their movements and create those openings that she could so effectively exploit.
Valeran struck at the ghoul packleader. The packleader struck back at him with its claws, leaving him temporarily rooted in place. But as the packleader moved on to attack Mwgu, Valeran summoned his arcane powers to fold space, bringing him once more adjacent to the packleader and letting him continue to strike at the creature. But the ghoul soon clawed out once more, tearing into the druid’s flesh. Seizing the opportunity, the packleader tore into the druid with his teeth. Finding the druid’s throat, the ghoul ripped a large chunk from the southerner’s neck. His blood spurting from his severed veins, the druid fell to the earth, a rain of crimson mixing with the torrential downpour until the blood no longer flowed and his spirit had fled to the distant land of his ancestors.
On the roof of the southern building, Kore sliced at the ghoul that had joined him on the roof. Decapitating the creature in one swing, he leapt to the ground to assist Glia. She quickly dispatched the hulking ghoul between the two of them and yelled for him to go to the aid of the others. Kore did, arriving just as the druid fell. Glia felled the last of the lesser ghouls and rejoined the others, where they closed in on the packleader while Beld’s spirit bear attacked it. Shortly, the last of the ghouls had fallen.
Going back to the northern building, they found the man was dead from the wounds inflicted by the ghouls. The young girl fared better; while hurt, she would live. Once they were told the ghouls had been destroyed the people within the church emerged, the screaming woman running to embrace the young girl. She thanked the heroes for saving her daughter and asked about her husband. Valeran shook his head remorsefully, and the woman began crying as she clutched at the girl. The man who had pulled her into the church, away from the ghouls, took her back inside the church. He invited the heroes into the shelter of the old building where they could speak.
There were only seven people in the church, the last remnants of the village. The church itself had once been an imposing structure. Kore reckoned its age as at least 800 years old, but perhaps older. It certainly predated the founding of the kingdom of Callon. What had led someone to build a church out here in the wilds, so far from any trappings of civilization? Long-since faded friezes hinted that this church had once been dedicated to the Primordials. Time had destroyed almost all such ornamentation, leaving a well-built stone building. The villagers had apparently reinforced the structure recently, supplying a heavy wooden door and building thick wooden barricades over the two spots where time had gotten the best of the church, leading to crumbling walls that would otherwise have allowed entrance into the fortification. The people themselves, upon closer inspection, looked emaciated.
Trusi, as the man was was known, explained what had befallen his village of Celaneddog. Two winters ago the Arlain of Blackfork became ill, a hoarse cough settling into his chest. Last spring he began coughing up blood, and he passed away in the autumn. He had outlived his heirs, so the Baron Coluddyn appointed his right-hand man Cidum as the new Arlain. Having grown up in Blackfork, Cidum had left the village at the age of 15 and found employment in the Baron’s service some 13 years ago, rising to become a trusted confidant of the Baron. As Arlain, he returned to Blackfork with a small number of soldiers already loyal to him. After sending many of the men away to fight against the encroaching barbarian warbands, he embarked on a progress around the other villages he now ruled. Arriving in Celaneddog, he spied a fair young girl, only 10, named Morwen. Her mother had died years before while trying to birth a brother for the girl, and her father had been taken by the Presser, leaving her in the care of her grandfather, a well-respected village elder named Hendad. Had Morwen been older he would surely have welcomed the marriage proposal, but as the Arlain intended to wed the girl immediately he refused. Angry, Cidum departed with his soldiers.
A week later, soldiers from Blackfork arrived again in Celaneddog. Claiming that the proper taxes had not been paid, they confiscated several of the finest livestock in the village. They would return again, every fortnight, with this same story and each time taking more livestock. As this last winter settled in, the village found themselves bereft of both sheep and chickens, and the soldiers even began to take a portion of the grains and other food stores. Slowly, the village was being starved. The villagers sent a representative to the Baron, asking for him to intercede with the Arlain, but their messenger returned to them badly beaten and bearing the message that they should not bother the Baron with such matters and should instead submit to the will of their rightful Arlain.
A fortnight after the last of the livestock were taken, a few of the villagers disappeared. In time, more met the same mysterious fate. Several families departed the village in winter, intent on reaching Millston and finding a new life there. A few returned weeks later, telling of fierce winter storms and days spent lost in the maze-like valleys that our heroes had so recently traversed. Some failed to return for months, and when they did return it was as the ghouls that had just been laid to rest. Valeran explained that sometimes ghouls were birthed from the bodies of cannibals, sending a shudder down everyone’s spines. Trusi continued, explaining that the ghouls had attacked each night, killing several of the villagers before the nature or extent of the threat was understood. People would bar their doors and shutter their windows before nightfall, but the villagers continued to dwindle.
A little over a month ago, the soldiers of Blackfork had made their last visit to Celaneddog. The villagers implored them to help against the ghouls, but the soldiers said they had brought this upon themselves. One soldier said that the villagers probably wished they had sent Morwen with the Arlain he had asked, and suggested that they might want to send her to Blackfork as an offering of peace. Hendad protested, going so far as to strike one of the soldiers. The troop set upon him, beating him badly. The soldiers then departed with both Hendad and Morwen, still refusing any aid to the village.
The attacks by the ghouls grew more potent and even some who had taken precautions were dragged away by the voracious undead. It was then that the villagers began reinforcing the old church and sheltering there come nightfall. By today there were only a handful left, huddling here in the church each evening and preying for deliverance. Each day, some ventured out into the surrounding forest to gather more food. Unfortunately, the storm today had darkened the sky and emboldened the ghouls, who came out for their nightly hunt early. The young girl they had rescued had been out picking berries for dinner; her father went out to collect her but they failed to make it back in time. The heroes heard Presen’s cries for help and arrived in time to save her daughter, but not her husband. Kore reminded Trusi that they too had lost a companion in this struggle against the undead, but Trusi grew angry at this. Had he not lost an entire village? How could they compare the two losses? But it was clear his anger was born of frustration, and he bore no ill will towards the saviors of these few remaining survivors. Valeran comforted him, saying that they would deal with this Arlain.
Drawing close together into a corner of the church, the remaining villagers huddled on makeshift beds, the heroes discussed possible courses of action. There seemed no point in journeying to Meadowbrook now. Home of the Baron Coluddyn, they should expect no assistance from there. What was Cidum’s plan? How would the downfall of Laston at the claws of the kruthik have enriched him? And why set bandits upon the border of the two baronies? This was an act of belligerence, if not outright war. Was there to be a civil war between the Barons to accompany the struggle against the barbarians to the south?
Overhearing a bit of this conversation, the woman Presen approached the heroes. She said she had a cousin in Blackfork, a woman named Selu, whom she trusted. If they so desired, she could provide directions on how to reach her cousin. Although she had not heard from her cousin in some time, she felt she could rely upon her to assist in whatever fashion they would need. Perhaps Selu could tell them more of Blackfork, or even hide them if they decided to sneak into the town?
Turning to the more immediate needs of these half-starved, oppressed villagers, the heroes decided to rest here overnight in the church with them. Provided there were no more ghouls, it should be safe for them to return to their homes tomorrow once the druid and Presen’s husband were laid to rest. The villagers could gather up their belonging and prepare for the journey south to the Gwynedd River and from there on to a new home. While they made their preparations, the heroes could hunt up sufficient provisions to see the villagers through the journey. With the villagers well-supplied, the heroes would continue on to Blackfork.
wherein our heroes confront Cidum, Arlain of Blackfork, would-be destroyer of Laston
wherein our heroes face soldiers of the Arlain, and learn of Krehir’s village
- The heroes stay at the church overnight
- The next day they go hunting to provide for the villagers during their travel to Millston to find a new home.
- They encounter a group of the arlain’s soldiers, two halflings and three humans. The halfling sergeant was confronted by the other halfling soldier while the others look on. After a staredown, the sergeant backs off and it appears the other halfling was now de facto leader. When the soldiers spy Krehir, one says, “A goliath? I thought we got rid of all of them.” Combat ensues; the human soldiers are killed, but the two halflings are taken prisoner.
- Krehir questions the halfling sergeant, who says that Cidum led troops to a goliath village in the north. The Arlain easily killed the goliath champion in single combat, and the village surrendered. Krehir becomes enraged at the sergeant and throws him to the ground, dashing his brains out.
- The party questions the remaining halfling. He says that the goliath had been given to a King in the north, but he didn’t know who or where. The party isn’t aware of any other kingdoms in the Four Kings.
- The party dumps the bodies in a ditch, covering them with brambles. Just like the redcaps did with their victims.
- The halflings had some regenerative abilities, apparently coming from a potion. Beld acquired one dose of the potion, which appears to contain some amount of blood.
- Before the fight, one of the human soldiers dropped to the ground and wandered around a pond like an animal.
- The party brings the food they caught back to the villages and departs for Blackfork.
- They travel to Blackfork, sneaking up to the home of Selu and meeting her. She tells them that the arlain is gone alone to visit his hags, who live to the northeast. He is expected to return tomorrow. She also tells them about Morwen’s fate. She was brought to Blackfork, and something so bad happened to her that Selu couldn’t bring herself to speak of it. Morwen’s grandfather was killed, and then she was given to the hags.
- The group decided to travel north and visit these hags. Perhaps they can rescue Morwen. They were undecided what to do if they spotted Cidum returning on the road, as this might be their best opportunity to catch him alone and unawares. However, they don’t know anything about his combat prowess other than he could easily best the champion from Krehir’s village.
- Selu, cousin of Presen (whose daughter they rescued from the ghouls). She lives on the edge of Blackfork, and appears to have little liking for Cidum.
- Knowing that the interrogation wasn’t going to be pleasant, Valeran went after the soldiers’ horses. Did he not have the stomach for it, or is he just willing to turn a blind eye to things he finds immoral if it benefits him?
- Krehir killed the helpless halfling sergeant out of anger.
- Glia killed the other bound halfling by slitting his throat. She wasn’t going to leave an enemy where it could threaten her later.
- Kore is now wearing clothing more reminiscent of a priest of Kalidril the Sorrowmaker.
wherein our heroes confront Cidum, Arlain of Blackfork, would-be destroyer of Laston
- The heroes travel northeast towards the hags, knowing they may encounter Cidum along the way. They debate how to proceed if that happens, but end up taking a “wait-and-see” approach. The heroes turn off the northern road onto a little-used trail Selu had described as the route to the hags. When they heard hoofbeats from an approaching horse, Glia climbed a tree to set an ambush. Kore followed suit and everyone made ready. When the mounted figure appeared, it was a well-appointed halfling in heavy armor with a mark over his right eye – Cidum, Arlain of Blackfork. The ambush was sprung.
- The PCs attacked, dealing a tremendous amount of damage to the halfling lord. Thanks to some slight regeneration and his healing abilities (Lay on Hands), he managed to deal some damage back to the PCs while they unloaded the vast majority of their daily powers. Eventually, they managed to damage him grievously enough to trigger a change in Cidum. His armor falling off, he took the form of a wolf and fled. After they dispatched his warhorse, they followed him.
- Desite the difficulty in keeping up with their fast prey, the PCs finally managed to catch up with him just after he reached some ruins on a hilltop to the east. As they approached the Arlain, they realized that he had apparently opened a portal to another world and brought an ally through. The ally was a gremlin, a fey goblin of sorts that was invisible to everyone adjacent to it, making it hard to strike at the creature. Cidum himself had taken on a third form, a towering beast that’s as much wolf as man – the hybrid form of a werewolf.
GliaGwil realized she could hold the portal shut, and could eventually close it altogether with great effort.
- The fight proved very challenging. Cidum continued to deal a lot of damage, particularly to Krehir (who kept him marked pretty much the entire battle). The gremlin dealt a lot of damage in the crowded ruins of the small building, hampering everyone’s movement. Eventually, Cidum stood between Krehir and Glia with only a handful of hit points remaining. He made his double claw attack, swinging at Krehir, but he missed with the first half of the attack. Unwilling to violate Krehir’s mark and grant Glia a Riposte Strike, he directed his second claw attack at the warden as well. The blow knocked Krehir unconscious.
- Cidum still had a minor action, which he could use to make a follow-up bite on someone he had damaged previously this turn. As the unconscious Krehir was the only target, he dropped down next to the fallen goliath and tore out his throat, killing him.
- Glia finished Cidum off, leaving only the gremlin who quickly tried to flee. He was quickly pursued and killed.
- Cidum was finally confronted and killed.
- Kore is obviously upset by the death of Krehir