The Shadow of Dragons

Session Fourteen
Secrets of the Tower

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May 27, 1482

The party awakes in the morning and chats with Henwen a bit more. Drianna receives a sending from Maedove letting them know that Wump arrived in Exridge. Drianna responds by having “The Dove” offer the young man a job.

The heroes then depart for the area Henwen indicated on their map in search of the wild elves. After much travel through the thickening woods, they find themselves ambushed. Drianna and Gareth are waylaid by pits and snares. Several archers and a mage fire from cover, and an earth elemental tosses stones while a treant animates several trees to attack as well.

In a stunning display of diplomacy and persuasion (back to back natural 20s!) the party manages to halt the attack and engage the wild elves in conversation. They speak with their leader, the elvish woman Yellis. Yellis introduces her compatriots Zarn and the sorceress Thilvara, and their allies Gnarlroot the treant and Vesley the earth elemental.

The party is led to a grove where the elves are staying, and they hear their story from Yellis and Zarn (with suspicious interjections from a still-unconvinced Thilvara):

“We wild elves have lived here for thousands of years. About 35 years ago, humans arrived and built a few homes in the old druid circle. We had always stayed away but were respectful of the druids, who left to join some great war two hundred years ago but never returned. But these new villagers were friendly enough, and kept to themselves. We would see them sometimes in the forest, and as long as they left us alone we got along well enough. We would meet with their leaders once a year to keep the peace between us. Things were good.

About a year ago, something happened. They didn’t come to the yearly meeting. We thought they may have trouble, so we left them to their business. But something had happened – some new people came to town, and there were deaths. None of our business, you understand. Then the forest began to change, to grow quiet, and we heard about the disease.

This was about six months ago – January. We sent a representative to them, to offer our help with their sickness. Their new leader, called Dyson, turned us away – said it was dangerous there, and showed us a body – a human woman, diseased, her guts fallen out and head rotted away. Said there was a sickness within her. We were afraid, so they said they would meet with us outside the town.

They came to parley, we met with them – the man Dyson, his swordswoman, and some others. It was an ambush. Why? We do not know, but it must be an aspect of the disease – to make them want to kill. Our people were murdered. We are the last.

We must not allow this sickness to spread, so we took an oath. For the good of this land, we must quarantine them. None can be allowed to leave and spread this infection. We set traps, drove them back, killed them when they tried to leave or we could get a good shot into the village.

In March Ser Petyr came. He found us, wanted to talk. We told him about their disease, about the ambush. He asked about what happened. He asked, with so many dying from sickness, where were they being buried? We showed him some we had killed in the forest, but as for town … we don’t know – we’ve seen no pyres. (Thilvara: “Maybe they eat their dead.”)

Ser Petyr thanked us, and headed back to the village. Said no disease could harm him, he was protected by Pelor. We never saw him alive again, but his ghost haunts these woods. (Thilvara: “Maybe he got sick anyway. Maybe they killed and ate him too.”)

Understand, it is a hard thing, but these villagers must die to protect the rest of the world. They are sick. Ones who do not appear to be sick may still spread the disease. We will carry on until we or they are dead."

The party listened carefully and began to piece together what they think really happened. They explained that the “disease” may actually be part of the cult they are hunting, and came to an agreement with the elves to hold off on any attacks on the village for one week. The heroes said they would return to the town tomorrow and confront the real enemy.

May 28

The party bids farewell to the elves and thanks them for their hospitality. The elves offer them several gifts in a gesture of hope for a resolution and wish the heroes luck.

Several plans are discussed as the group heads back to Ossington.

When the PCs arrive, Ossington looks like a ghost town. Everyone has locked their windows and doors and appear to be hunkering down, as if they are expecting trouble.

The only person visible in town is Tully, sitting on the steps to the tower sharpening her sword.

“Welcome back,” she says. “I’ll get right to it with you – we haven’t been able to 100% keep track of you, so I’m not certain what you think you’ve discovered or who you’ve talked to. But we’ve obviously underestimated you, and someone would like to talk to you about maybe taking up positions within our organization.”

She gestures to the top of the tower, where the Sparrow appears, and proceeds to make a short speech:

“Hello friends!

“The man you know as Dyson is in fact a great leader. He is Belak, a revolutionary fighting against the literal extermination of his people. Fighting to free a group that has been systematically persecuted for more than a thousand years. Fighting for innocent people, including every man woman and child that lives in this town, to live without fear of being hunted down and murdered for no reason other than cruel, prejudiced tradition.

And if his methods seem extreme to you, please know that it is only after his own great personal suffering – outcast from society, hunted for no crime other than being born – only after years of this did he conclude that there were no other options. Neither Church nor Crown will bend. Extreme measures must be taken in order to right this evil. Set aside your personal qualms about the means and join us to reach the justified end."

While curious about these statements, the party has already decided that these are the bad guys, so spells are cast and combat begins.

Tully runs into the tower, saying “So that’s it then? No reason, just blood?”

The party assaults the tower, finding Tully joined by many monks – monks obviously of the Tiso clan, wearing the robes and weapons of those that killed Razar-De’s family. An extended combat takes place as their enemies are driven back to the second floor of the tower and fought there.

While this is taking place, the constant song the Sparrow is playing begins to take on a darker, more gutteral tone. No one can see what he’s doing on the roof, but suddenly a small earthquake cracks the tower, then fire begins to rain down on the area outside. Shortly after, a great screech is heard from the roof, then a sound as of the movement of great wings, then finally silence from above. Tully and the monks are cornered and slain.

Several items that Dyson/Belak had been studying are recovered from the second floor, and the party moves up past a magically-sealed door to the third floor.

It is here that much is finally revealed to the heroes. All one large room, the third floor is part library, part twisted laboratory. They find several tables with rotten fruit on cloths, and a large jar in which one of the worm-like parasites is preserved in fluid. Elsewhere they find two human torsos, each cut open and also preserved in large tanks of fluid. There are also several pots of foul-smelling soil. The walls themselves are covered with a glowing fungus, that has been shaped to form long, rambling sentences:

Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead to share with the worms that gather in the darkness and surround the world with the power of their lives while from the dim-lit halls of other places forms that could never be writhe for the impatience of the few who have never seen or been seen. In the black grove with the sun shining at midnight, those fruit shall come ripe and in the darkness of that which is golden shall split open to reveal the revelation of the fatal softness in the earth. The shadows of the abyss are like the petals of a monstrous flower that shall blossom within the skull and expand the mind beyond what any man can bear. There shall be a fire in your chest that knows your name, and in the presence of the strangling fruit, its dark flame shall acquire every part of you. All will shed their skins. All will crawl in the grass. None shall stand over others. Equality and justice for those outcast, equality and justice for the expellers. All the same. All the same. All the same.*

Moving on to the roof, they find a large magic circle, cracked by the earthquake and rendered useless. It also appears that the Sparrow had been burning papers, but they party manages to rescue several entries in a journal apparently belonging to Belak.

The group leaves the tower as villagers emerge from their homes, several of which are burning. The party helps put out the fires, then speaks with Fen the Elder. Now that their captors are dead or fled, he can tell the party the villagers side of the story:

Back in the 50’s, some of the Snake clan – refugees you understand – came across abandoned ruins of an ancient village within the standing stones. A small group settled in the area. Over the next 30 years, word traveled and the village grew as persecuted Snakes arrive seeking a peaceful life. Things were good.

Then, on July 6 of last year, this wizard Dyson arrived with Tully, that bard, a dozen monks and a four bushels of fruit. They distributed the fruit to all the townspeople. It was amazing, most everyone was amazed how delicious they were and how healthful they made us feel.

Three days later Dyson called a meeting with the village elders. And they killed all but Murdows and Henwen. Don’t know what happened to her, but Henwen went off her nut and the Sparrow took her as his lover, which only seemed to drive her deeper into madness. Poor thing. They left Murdows alive to “run” the town (under Tully and the monks’ watch) and handle the deliveries from the south.

That went on for a while, then in September, they killed Tymon. He was talking about going to the elves for help, and we don’t know how but he just … his body fell apart and his head just … melted. They spoke some words, and the worm thing just fell out of him while … poor Tymon became some whip-headed zombie. Tully just laughed and … they killed him. Said the jokes on us, you know, the fruit was like a poison that we ate, and they could kill any of us at any time.

Dyson lived here for a while, leaving a few times over the winter, we don’t know how or for where. We were all afraid, starving. It was a hard winter.

But January was when things got worse. Some people tried to leave, maybe make it to the elves. We never saw them again, but they said old Maggie helped them, so they did her in the same as Tymon. Then the elves did come, but Dyson scared them off. That was the last we saw of them until they started killing us. End of the month Dyson left again, and left Tully in charge of dealing with the elves.

In March Dyson came back. But then that knight arrived, and we thought, oh maybe we’re saved now, right? Well I guess one of us, Kivo, must have said the wrong thing to him – while the knight was gone, they killed Kivo and then a bunch of them set off to “deal with” the knight. Never saw him again neither … until his ghost showed up. Dyson left again for a while, and the Sparrow too – said he was leaving to play for a big show in the capital. But Tully and the monks stayed.

Then just a week before you showed up, they all came back, waiting for someone. Then one of your cultists – a fearsome creature like half dragon but walking and speaking like a woman – shows up. Went into the tower, and again, never saw her/it again.

Three days later you all arrived."

When asked about the deliveries, Fen says everything went right into the tower – “Into the tower. We don’t know more than that. There’s no basement to the tower, unless Dyson and his people dug them in the past year without us knowing. They were always messing about on the roof of the tower, but it’s not like a dragon flew down and took the things away or anything. Just into the tower and never seen again.”

The party surmises that the magic circle on top of the tower was being used to transport both the pillaged treasure and the bodies, but with no means to repair it can not tell exactly where it went.

The heroes agree to keep this settlement a secret for now, allaying the villagers concerns that, as Snakes, they’ll all be hunted down and killed if their secret is revealed.

Drianna sets to work investigating and salvaging what she can from the journal, and is able to discover the following entries:

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What and where is this “sunless citadel”? Who exactly is this Belak, and who is the woman mentioned as running the cult? Who is Gulthias, and what does he have to do with a tree? What do these fruit do normally – and what when infected with these parasites? And is the whole Cult of the Dragon a money-making scheme with some other secret purpose? With so much new information to sift through and digest, the party gathers to discuss their next move.

* (My apologies to Jeff VanderMeer, this just fit so well! Go read Annihilation!)

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Session Thirteen
Not What It Seems

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May 23, 1482 cont’d

Saithnar and Gareth begin what turns out to be a fairly evenly matched duel. The spirit’s fearsome presence rattles the party somewhat and Razar-De attacks Saithnar from range, turning the duel into a mass melee as the wights attack and more undead begin dropping down from the darkness above. Tarathan is surrounded, while Drianna, Tully, and Venix are bottled up at the entrance by the horde of creatures.

Gareth, eventually driven to his knees and his weapon shattered by Saithnar’s ghostly frostblade, yields. Saithnar and his minions stop their attacks, and allow the party to withdraw … but not before admonishing Gareth for the “dishonorable company” he keeps and scarring his cheek as a reminder.

Some short conversation is had, where Saithnar claims little knowledge of the outside world, saying he spends most of his time in slumber. He also claims to know nothing of The Horseman.

The party departs the barrow and heads back to Ossington. As they draw near the town, they are again set upon by the ghostly Horseman. He attacks Tully, nearly trampling Gareth and Tarathan in the process. But as it wheels about for another charge, Tarathan lets loose a mighty attack of divine power, driving the horseman back. The horseman pauses, and although its face is hidden behind its great helm, Tarathan can feel it lock eyes with him. Its gaze weighs heavily on Tarathan, filling him with odd feelings of confusion and shame. The ghost then quickly fades from view.

The heroes return to Ossington to rest for the night and ponder their next move.

May 24

The next morning, Gareth again summons food for the town, going next door and asking The Sparrow to handle the distribution. Another crowd of grateful villagers arrives, thanking the party for their help.

One of them, Fen, nervously approaches the party with his son, also named Fen. He thanks them profusely, saying the meals they have provided have been the first filling meals he’s had for days – he’s been giving most of his food to “Little Fen”. He then nervously urges the young boy forward towards the heroes, saying, “Go ahead son, just like we practiced.”

The younger Fen shyly thanks the PCs, shaking their hands in turn. When he reaches Gareth, he slips him a note, then continues until he has thanked them all. “Big” Fen quickly gathers his son up, thanks them all again, and quickly departs. The party finds a private space and examines the note:

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There is only one house in town with orange shutters, an abandoned single-room cottage (#11 on the Roll20 map). Tarathan, Gareth, and Venix keep watch while Drianna and Razar-De enter and look around. Drianna exhibits her usual investigative flair and immediately notices that something has been buried beneath the straw bed. They dig, and find a small package wrapped in paper and string. Within are a set of robes identical to those worn by the monk clan who murdered Razar-De’s mother, and a slightly rusty kukri with the mark of the Tiso clan on the hilt.

This leads to much discussion and a walk around the village. They decide to visit with a random villager, and settle on a large cottage. There they meet Myla, a young woman who has taken over the care for five of the village’s elderly who have all lost their families. They speak with her about her history and the history of the village a bit, then depart.

They stop in and speak with Dyson, who warns them not to “trust the dead” and to put no faith into Saithnar’s words. He suggests the party concentrate on locating and eliminating the elves, and points them to the west.

The party then takes a trip to the deceased Elder Murdows’ home. There, they speak with Murdows’ secretary Evah. She seems hesitant to go into any details, dodging direct answers, but the heroes do manage to determine that that home with the orange shutters belonged to a man named Mendil, who was among the first to be killed by the horseman.

Much discussion is had, with many theories presented. Who are the “they” that won’t “let them leave”? Why was there a Tiso monk in town? Has The Sparrow been lying to them? Tully? Dyson? The whole village falls under the heroes suspicion, and they decide to head where everyone told them not to bother checking – Red Horse Hill.

The small lake, or tarn, at the foot of the hill seems a forbidding place. The water is murky and acidic from dissolved clay and chalk, giving it a color unpleasantly like diluted blood. There’s a foul smell of mud and swamp gas in the air, stagnant and wet with an undertone of death and rot. The hill above is covered with short, tough grass, but the borders of the tarn are bare clay. There’s no sign of pond life – no ripples of frogs or fish, no buzzing insects, no weeds or turtles poking above the water. The party briefly searches the shoreline before noticing the ghostly figure of the horseman watching them from a distant copse of trees.

Rather than rush to attack, the heroes wait to see what he does. The horseman rides slowly across the surface of the lake, his steed’s hooves splashing softly with each step. Reaching a point about thirty feet offshore, the spirit turns to face them, and Tarathan feels the odd confusing sense of shame again. The horseman then salutes them, raising his blade to his helm, so he appears to be looking at them across the top of the crossguard, and sinks slowly beneath the surface. Tarathan instantly recognizes this as not only a gesture holy to Pelor, but specifically to the Radiant Servants.

Shocked, the party keeps watch while Tarathan dives into the murky red water and discovers the rusted armor and skeletal remains of a knight and his steed. They spend several hours recovering the remains from the lake, and discover that while the helmet is present, the head itself is not, stymieing their plans to speak with the dead. Also recovered is the golden sunburst medallion of Pelor and banner of the Radiant Servants the fallen horseman wore beneath his armor. Drianna investigates the remains and is able to identify multiple sword and dagger wounds – but none from arrows.

This sparks a fresh round of paranoid discussion – who killed this knight, and why? The damage indicates it likely wasn’t the elves, but then who? How do the Tiso monks, this murdered knight, and the elvish attacks tie together – and what does any of it have to do with the Cult of the Dragon and the treasure that must be passing through this way?

Working as best they could, they laid the remains to proper rest in the shade of some nearby trees, and Tarathan said a prayer for his fallen brother in arms. By this time the hour had grown late, and the party, unsure of the wisdom of returning to town, decided to camp out by the lake.

May 25

The night passes uneventfully. The group decides to visit the Silence Keepers next, but take the long way around and avoid passing too near Ossington. By the afternoon they arrive, and spend some time investigating the area. Little is found beside some evidence of past visitation by the townsfolk.

More discussion ensues, trying to track the motivations and movements of the fallen knight. The party recalls their initial visit to Henwen‘s chapel, and how she later said the knight “wanted to see the bodies”. But, they recall, there were no fresh graves in that graveyard. Drianna wonders where all the bodies are going – if so many past villagers were killed, the three the party returned to town with, even Elder Murdows … where did all of their bodies go? Tarathan recalls mention of “experiments” in Rezmir’s notes and wonders if it’s related. Henwen’s “fortunes” are also puzzled over, with one of them seemingly related to the location of the murdered knight. At this point most of the day has again passed, so the party decides to rest here for the night and pay another visit to the chapel tomorrow.

May 26

After another uneventful night, the heroes make their way south then west, again avoiding passing too close to Ossington on their way to the chapel. While traveling, they attempt several methods to attract the attention of the elves, hoping to contact and speak with them. However, these efforts prove fruitless, and the party arrives at the chapel near dusk.

They decide to stay within the woods a ways off and observe for a while before approaching. They can see and hear Henwen inside, and she seems to be uttering prayers to her nine strange gods. They watch her occasionally take short walks around the graveyard before returning to her prayers. As night falls, she eats a meager meal and then begins dozing off. Eventually she curls up and sleeps on the dirt floor of the chapel. At this point the party approaches and wakes her.

Several members of the party try to gain information from her, and Drianna bluffs that they are in league with The Sparrow, who has sent them to check how things are going. Henwen continues to profess her love for The Sparrow, and gives several disjointed pieces of information to the party. She says “they come and take the bodies”. They take them away to the north “to the castle”, but she does not appear to know which castle, or its location. Finally, she asks the heroes when they think they’ll get around to killing the elves, whom she does not care for, “but their friends come and visit sometimes” and she likes “them”. Specifics are hard to come by, but she is able to point them in the direction of where she claims the elves should be.

The party decides to camp here for the night.

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Session Twelve
The Village in the Stones

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May 22, 1482

The Sparrow guided the party through the crowd to the home of Elder Murdows. After introductions, Murdows, nervously and with help from the Sparrow, filled the party in on the situation in Ossington.

“It began a few months ago,” he said. “We’ve always had problems with the grugach – that is, the wild elves who live off to the northwest. They hate everybody who isn’t an elf, and I’ve even heard that they hate other elves that aren’t of their tribe. Usually they just ignore us so long as we stay out of their part of the woods and we let them be. It’s a big forest, after all, and except for a few hunters and wood gatherers, most of us rarely went too deep into the woods, while so far as we know they rarely left the darkest area of the forest.”

“All that changed when the Horseman came riding into town – about three, four months ago I guess it was. We never learned his name and never saw his face, ’cause he never took off that great big helmet. He visited each of the old monuments in these parts one by one – the chapel, the circles, the Silence Keepers, the Red Horse, and the old barrow. Last we saw of him, he was riding away north of town up toward the barrow.”

“Then, next thing we knew, a group of woodsmen who’d gone out gathering wood went missing. We found their bodies the next day, shot full of elf arrows. It was like that for a while: somebody’d just go missing, and maybe we’d find the body and maybe we wouldn’t. Then they got bolder, and started shooting folks who weren’t even in the woods at all but out plowing in broad daylight. Elder Meril, the mayor before me, led a group out under a white flag for a parley, but they never came back. We found the massacre site two days later.”

He gulped and turned pale. "We weren’t sure if all the bodies were there or not, the way they’d been hacked apart. Meril’s body was intact, though with so many arrows shot through him that we couldn’t get him loose from the tree. We tried to send for help, of course, but that’s when we found out the Horseman hadn’t gone away at all. He’s lurking around the area, a demon or ghost or something, springing out to ride folks down or hack ‘em to bits with that big sword of his. We figure he must be working with the elves, but I don’t know why or how he gets around the way he does.

“Since then, things have gone from bad to worse. We had to eat the sheep and chickens, so there’s no more livestock. We couldn’t plant the crops, so there will be no harvest come autumn. The Horseman guards the roads, so no one can get out that way – not even the volunteers you met up with. The elves lurk up north and take potshots at us from the woods from time to time, just enough to keep everyone lying low. Even the wild animals in the forest seem to be dying off. We’re getting pretty desperate. Can you help us?”

The Sparrow explained his presence in town as well – he had heard of the legends of Saithnar, a legendary warlord whose tale would make for a great dirge. The Sparrow traveled here just about a week ago, and is now trapped with everyone else. He made a point to mention that he has a command performance soon for young Prince Tammen Exridge, and can make it worth their while if they can get him out of town in time.

As night falls and discussion ensues, the heroes agree to offer what assistance they can. Relieved, Murdows offers them an unused cabin for as long as they wish. Gareth summons a great deal of food and fresh water, which Murdows has stored for the morning, then walked with the party towards their cabin.

One second they were talking to Murdows, and the next there’s a sudden whump! and a bloody arrow sticking out of his back. His eyes rolled up as he gurgled and pitched forward, slain instantly. The heroes barely had time to react before more than a dozen hawks descended from above and began dive-bombing anyone in the open. Their screeching calls and fluttering wings filled the air, distracting the party from any activity other than protecting themselves from their razor-sharp talons. The Sparrow wove a song of bardic magic to assist the party as everyone took cover and tried to locate their attackers, but aside from a flash of movement off to the west, none were located. The group was joined by Tully, who helped drag Murdows into the tower at the center of town.

Razar-De and Drianna stayed under cover to watch for further attack before eventually it became clear the danger has passed, then joined the others in the tower. There, they met Dyson, a seemingly doddering old sage more interested in discussing the intricacies of magic with Venix and learning about S.HAR.M.IN. than anything else. He told them that the tower once belonged to his mentor, Olwain, and when the old man died and Dyson inherited the place, he retired from adventuring and came here to live, along with his fellow adventurer Tully.

Tully was more helpful, talking shop with the fighters and showing off a “Durgeddin” blade, a magical longsword forged by the legendary dwarven weaponsmith, that she had taken off a creature she called the “door warden” at the barrow, but had to retreat after it broke her arm. Tarathan laid hands on her, healing the wound. Dyson suggested if the party was going to go to the barrow, they might want to take Tully with them. Exhausted, everyone retired for the night.

May 23

The next morning, the group was awakened by the sounds of someone banging two pans together. They headed to the entrance of town where The Sparrow and some of the less malnourished townsfolk were handing out the food Gareth had summoned. Everyone present expressed sorrow over the loss of Murdows, but was extremely thankful, and several approached the heroes directly to express their appreciation.

The source of the noise, it turned out, was Henwen standing at the town’s entrance, who stopped banging her cookware upon seeing the heroes and called out to them, “The nine true gods of old call me messenger! Silver to hear their wisdom! Silver to honor them and hear their truth!”

None seemed interested but Gareth, who gave her a silver. Henwen’s eyes rolled back into her head, and she produced a quails egg from her basket, smashing it into Gareth’s chest and intoning:

Unra FROM the wind SAYETH:
Hush and hush who eat and sing
lest they wake the tyrant king

A curious Gareth continued to pay her, and she offered the following fortunes in turn:

Su’bu FROM the moon SAYETH:
Ten and three, three and ten
All the same all the same, come again

Penst FROM the road SAYETH:
Come and see, all, the beastly wild
On bended knee to this unmanly child

Henwen asked Gareth to do her a favor, and when he agreed, she pulled him close and whispered in his ear, “Tell the Sparrow that I love him!”. Then she smashed him with another egg and said:

Hocres FROM the grave SAYETH:
From the north and from within
Kin kills kin kills kin kills kin

Gareth spoke with the Sparrow and delivered the message, to which he responded with an exasperated, “Oh, I know.” Gareth then returned to Henwen and asked her if she spoke to the Horseman when he visited her chapel, and she said that he did, and that he wanted to “see the bodies”, but would elaborate no further. She then giggled and said:

Rosk FROM his secret place SAYETH:
Big fish little fish swimming in the water
Gnaw and nibble, grow fat on the slaughter

At this point, Dyson arrived and and shouted, “Enough! Everyone is panicked enough without hearing from this rambling loon. Jozan, take care of … her.” Henwen responded by giggling, “This one is free for DYSON!” She threw an egg at the sage and said:

Hane FROM the earth SAYETH:
Worms for bones and dirt for breath
Did you prepare your soul for death?

The Sparrow gently guided her away, saying, “Come along love, let’s get you some tea and then I think you need a nap.”

After the meal, the party, joined by Tully, decided to first visit the old barrow and headed out. The trip was uneventful other than several discoveries of bones and human remains, all killed by elvish arrows. By noon, they reached the entrance to the barrow. They noticed an inscription above the entrance, which read, “Heart shall be bolder, Courage the greater, Will the sterner, As our strength lessens.” S.HAR.M.IN. was able to link this to an old poem about the final speech of a great warlord.

Inside was a chamber, where they noted a stone altar (which Tully told them is where villagers used to leave offerings until the trouble started), and the remains of an undead creature, which Tully confirms as the door warden she slew.

Descending a set of stairs into pitch black darkness, the heroes found themselves within a twisting maze of narrow hallways, then were set upon by waves of undead wights. Standing their ground, the heroes won the pitched battle and located the exit of the maze. Exploring further, they came upon a chamber obviously the tomb of the warlord Saithnar.

As they examined the tomb, several more wights dropped from hidden crevices in the ceiling as the glowing blue ghost of the warlord materialized. The wights did not attack, but merely flanked the apparition as it spoke, “What callow youths enter my barrow waving their swords?”

Tarathan introduced himself as one of the Radiant Servants of Pelor, to which Saithnar replied, “I know your god but not your Order.” Then Gareth introduced himself as a priest of Kord, which seemed to pique the phantom’s interest. It stepped forward, readied its ghostly blade for combat, and demanded, “Then approach, servant of battle, as one of your god should!”

Others in the party began to inch forward, to which the wights responded by crouching, ready to spring into action. Gareth then alone stepped forward, prepared to duel, which seemed to please the ancient spirit.

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Session Eleven
Ghosts of the Empty Forest

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May 20, 1482

After a short, damp rest, the party left the caves beneath the castle. They spoke briefly with Snapjaw, who informed them that the lizardfolk’s rebellion was successful, all “dragon-kneelers” and most of the bullywugs were dead, and a great feast would be held that night in their honor.

Still needing more information, the heroes explored the two remaining towers. In the first, they discovered Rezmir’s quarters. There, they found a significant cache of gold and gems. Among the papers on her desk were also her notes describing the portal beneath the castle and how to operate it, including its command word (“Draezir").

Also on the desk, held down by a familiar small ornate wooden box which contained a small goopy mass of what seemed to be rotting fruit, was another note:
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Much thought was put into the contents of the note and the box – Who were the “they” mentioned? Are “they” the “Outcast” and the “Red Woman”? What experiments, and why did they seem to matter more than the Cult? Where was the “cursed place”, and how would it “feed” on a corpse? Was Rezmir doubting her faith in the cult?

That discussion was tabled for later, and the party moved on to explore the final tower. There, they found the ancient remains of some sort of device, part orrery and part telescope. Exposed to the elements for untold years, they found the crystal lenses smashed and severe damage overall. It seemed at some point someone spent a bit of time hacking the device apart with an axe.

This, they surmised, was the Farseer, the device which brought Venix here. S.HAR.M.IN. stated that Rezmir and Dral had found a number of journals here, but had burned them as heretical. S.HAR.M.IN. had, however, indexed eight of the books before they were burned. When asked for a summary, he described the history of the Ephemeri, a group of astrologers led by a man named Naerytar.

S.HAR.M.IN. told the party that Naerytar kept detailed records of their discovery of an intelligence beyond the stars which drove him to paranoia and madness, eventually killing the other Ephemeri and then himself. Whether his discovery was fact or delusion is unknown, but without the Farseer it would be hard to say.

Venix was disappointed in the loss of this knowledge, but S.HAR.M.IN. offered to recite the volumes he had indexed if Venix wished to transcribe them.

With an overabundance of information, the heroes joined the lizardfolk in their celebration, with plans to travel through the portal in the morning.

May 21

After bidding goodbye to Snapjaw and his people, the party assembled on the misty portal and spoke the command word. Instantly, they found themselves in a similar circle within a crumbling ruin. They were in a wooded area, and could see mountains a short distance to the north. With some geography work, they placed themselves in the northern Kingswood. Venix’s familiar, an owl called Hector, gave them an aerial view, and could see a small farm ahead, then another larger dwelling, and in the far distance a small village.

The party headed north on a deeply-rutted trail. After a short while, they noticed that there was no birdsong, no buzzing of insects, no noise other than the wind and the trees themselves. As dusk approached, they heard a scream from ahead. A ghostly horseman and steed were in the process of trampling and cutting down three peasants travelling with a wagon. Unable to reach them in time, the heroes watched helplessly as the creature finished its attack and disappeared into the wood. They placed the bodies in the cart, calmed the frightened donkey, and rode the cart on north.

As darkness fell, they arrived at the farmhouse of farmer Tarbee and his daughter Tanasha. They offered the party shelter for the night, and some information about events in the area. It seemed that the local wild elves, who for years lived in peace with the locals, have all but disappeared. According to Tarbee, six months ago they “went crazy” and started killing everyone they found in the woods, and won’t let anyone leave the small village up the trail, called Ossington. Shortly after that, the horseman began appearing in the woods, “hunting any who wander these woods.” Tarbee did not have further details, only saying that both the elves and the horseman seemed to leave he and his daughter alone, and he wanted to keep it that way by not getting involved.

Tanasha arranged a meeting with Venix and Tarathan in the barn, and begged them for any food they might have to spare. They shared some of their rations, which she hid in the barn. Tanasha then asked them that were they to return this way, they take her with them. Without promising anything, Venix and Tarathan calmed her and said they would do what they could.

May 22

The heroes departed early the next morning. After a few hours travel, they came upon the second structure. This turned out to be an ancient church and graveyard, presided over by a woman named Henwen. She seemed odd and a little creepy, but nice enough, inviting the party to pray to her nine strange gods and walk the graveyard with her. She expressed great concern for their souls, and pressed them continually to “prepare their souls” for death. The heroes chatted briefly but gained no readily useful information from the woman, so said their goodbyes and headed out again.

Later in the afternoon, the dense wood opened up into a large clearing, ringed by huge standing stones. Within the ring were farmers fields gone fallow and to rot, then another, smaller ring of stones. Within that second ring stood the small hamlet of Ossington. As the party approached, a crowd of ragged, starving villagers began to form – but never leaving the inner ring of stones. Once the heroes moved into the village proper, they were surrounded by the villagers, all begging for food and salvation.

Before things could get out of hand, a man emerged and played a calming tune on a lyre, and the crowd grew quiet. He introduced himself as none other than Jozan Lostcaller, better known as The Sparrow, a world-famous bard. Some in the party were familiar with him by name, and all of them at least had heard one of his popular songs. He welcomed the party and offered to escort them to the village elder. He led them deeper into the village, singing “his latest composure, a work in progress” called ‘Saithnar Awaits the Barrow’.

The last sunbeam
Lightly falls from the finish’d helm,
On the forest floor here, it is looking
Down into a new-made grave.

Lo! the moon ascending!
Up from the east, the red round moon;
Beautiful over the treetops, ghastly phantom moon;
Immense and silent as the grave before him.

I see a sad procession,
And I hear the sound of coming mourners
All the pathways of the forest they are flooding,
With voices and with tears.

For Saithnar prepares to take his place
In the foremost ranks of the fallen;
Twice veteran’d,
And now the grave awaits him.

O strong dead-march, build the barrow!
O moon immense, with your red face!
O my soldier! O my warlord!
Who shall remember two battles, won and then lost.

(My apologies to Walt Whitman!)

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Session Ten
Beneath Castle Naerytar

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May 19, 1482

Before they can head downstairs, Gareth heard a voice in his head, asking him to come to the window and look across to the castle’s central tower. Doing so, the party could see a gnome, Venix Idris, imprisoned by Dral.

The heroes made their way back to ground level to find the lizardfolk had launched their attack on the cultists and bullywugs, and were fighting for control of the castle. The party picked their way through the fighting, ascended the central tower, and killed two bullywugs guarding Venix’s door.

Joining forces, the bolstered party made their way into the castle dungeons in search of the bullywug leader Pharbex. Despite some repeated troubles maintaining solid footing on steps throughout the muddy dungeon, the heroes successfully defeated more bullywugs, centipedes, and giant frogs.

They discovered a large chamber filled several feet deep with a glowing fog, that, it was soon discovered, hid a large magic circle inscribed on the ground. Unable to determine its purpose at this time, they opted to move on.

Descending further, they encountered Pharbex and a retinue of bullywug guards, and battle was joined. Pharbex filled the room with hallucinogenic spores and launched arrows of lightning, then retreated into another chamber while his minions peppered the party with thrown javelins. The heroes engaged the guards, killing most of them, but then began to succumb to the effects of the spores. Everyone except Venix begins to see both allies and enemies alike as horrific frog monsters, and felt a great need to go hide deep within the waters of an underground pool they saw earlier.

Eventually Pharbex fell, and the heroes took a much-needed rest.

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Session Nine
Castle Naerytar

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May 17, 1482

In the morning, Tarathan receives a Sending from Marnius Cortes. It seems to be a broadcast message: “Radiant Servants hear this. High Clerist Lycus gravely ill. We ask all faithful to perform devotions to his health and keep him in your prayers.”

About an hour later, Gareth received a similar Sending, from Sindri Smokebeard: “All Freemen, High Clerist Lycus has fallen gravely ill. Keep him and all of our brothers of Pelor in your prayers.”

Tarathan and Gareth took a moment to offer prayer for Auberon Lycus, First of the Holy Church of Pelor, before moving on. The party followed the trail to an abandoned campsite/waystation. They secure the area, set watches, and rest.

May 18

Just before dawn, a group of lizardfolk approach from the east in three canoes. Their leader calls out in Draconic, “Are you there guys? It’s us!” The party hides and prepares an ambush. As the lizardfolk dock and begin moving into the camp, the heroes attack, killing one and wounding several of the lizardfolk. Their leader, Snapjaw, begs them, in very good Common, to cease their attack and speak with him. The heroes oblige.

They learn that Snapjaw is a member of a tribe of lizardfolk who are enslaved to the “dragon kneelers” and their bullywug allies. An elf named Dral Borngray leads the cultists, while the bullywug shaman, Pharbex, slew the lizardfolk chieftain, leaving his tribe leaderless and his people’s spirit broken.

They are being used to transport the crates of treasure from the Roadhouse to an old, sinking fortress in the swamp called Castle Naerytar.

Snapjaw tells them that he has been gathering and hiding steel weapons in preparation for leading his people in revolt, but has been unable to convince his tribe to fight. He hopes the heroes can help him, and in exchange he will help them get into the castle and help them in their fight against the cultists. The party agrees to accompany him to where his people are living outside the castle.

They arrive at the castle grounds just as full dark settles over the swamp. Snapjaw leads the heroes to a set of well-kept reed longhouses where his people stay, and describes the castle interior to them. He tells them that his people need a sign that their oppressors can be defeated, and the party asks if the sight of Dral’s body falling from his tower would work for him. Snapjaw lets them know this would be more than sufficient, and together they formulate a plan.

Snapjaw has the heroes wait just outside the castle’s gate, while he goes inside to retrieve his hidden cache of weapons. After a while, he returns hauling a small wagon, its contents concealed beneath blankets and hides. He tells the heroes that all seems well inside, and gives them directions to Dral’s tower. He will gather his people, distribute the weapons, and await their signal.

The party bluffs their way past a number of bullywug guards and cultists, and climbs the tower to Dral’s chambers. They are met by some higher-ranking cultists and made to wait for an audience. They can overhear Dral having a conversation in his bedchamber, but, oddly, the other side of that talk seems to be answering with a series of chirps and hoots.

After a few minutes, Dral emerges clad in purple robes similar to Frulam’s, and the heroes initially try to bluff their way into getting him alone, but he shows a lecherous side and offers to meet privately with Drianna while the others wait. They decide enough is enough, and the battle begins. The confined space makes for a chaotic fight, but eventually the heroes slay their enemies without allowing any to escape or raise an alarm.

Forgetting briefly what happened with Frulam, they set about searching the area until Dral’s corpse also disgorges a worm and reanimates itself. Another short battle breaks out while the heroes put down the abominations.

They discover a small cache of treasure beneath Dral’s floorboards, and a magic dagger hidden within a small statue of Tiamat. Also in his office, they discover a small mechanical owl, seemingly animated by magic. After engaging with the device, they are able to understand its hooting. It introduces itself as S.HAR.M.IN., Sentient HARdware, Mobile INdexer. It is very polite, and offers its assistance whenever they may need to reference any of its indexed knowledge. Drianna offers her shoulder for it to ride, and it happily accepts.

Satisfied that they’re finished here, the party tosses Dral’s mutilated corpse from the battlements, and immediately hears shouts of combat from below. They ready themselves and prepare to descend into war.

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Session Eight
Construction Ahead

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May 10-16, 1482

The party shadowed that caravan for several days before reaching the Carnath Roadhouse. There, they attempted to pose as undercover cultists there to oversee the operation. The site’s superintendent, Bog Luck, eventually accepted their story. However, Half-Nose, having also just arrived at the Roadhouse, strongly objected. The heroes spun quite a story, and bluffed, intimidated, and threatened their way into being given a room and talking later.

They met a very eager assistant in the form of the stableboy Wump, who aspired to be a great investigator one day, and offered to assist them with any mysteries they might be trying to solve. They spent some time gathering information about the goings-on at the Roadhouse, met the camp chef Gristle Pete, and determined that all the treasure was being deposited in one room, but never seemed to leave.

The party waited until nightfall, and attempted to sneak downstairs to get a look at that room. Wump was able to warn them beforehand that Half-Nose and his crew were suspicious of the group, and waiting in ambush for them.

A very short battle ensued, with the heroes making quick work of Half-Nose and his cultists. Working quickly, Drianna disabled the locked door, startling the half dozen lizardfolk inside. The creatures had entered through a trap door in the floor of the room, and were ferrying the crates of treasure into the tunnel below.

Another short fight ensued, and the party slew all of the lizardfolk. They quickly gathered all the bodies and dumped them down into the passageway, and were about to investigate it when they all also discussed what to do with Bog Luck, Wump, and their horses. Drianna gave Wump the address of Thornhart, Inc. in Exridge, and told him to wait two days, take their horses, and head there and he’d be taken care of.

They also determined that things would be better if Bog Luck was also dead, so Razar-De entered his room and killed him in his sleep. Bog Luck’s body joined the others in the tunnel, Drianna re-locked the door from the inside, and everyone headed down into the passageway, spiking the trap door closed behind them.

The tunnel was filled chest-deep with cold swamp water, and the party made their way along the dark passageway. After a distance, it opened into the swamp northeast of the Roadhouse. Locating some lizardfolk canoes, they discovered a blazed trail and paddled deeper into the swamp.

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Session Seven
On the Road

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April 8, 1482

The caravan departs, planning to travel the stretch of road from Varsten to Torsuul as a three week journey.

April 10
The cultists’ wagon – the sixth in the caravan – overturns when a wheel breaks on a rock. Of the crates that tumbled free, one smashes open, revealing dozens of beautiful items of jewelry wrapped in wool for protection. Oddly, one of the treasures is a small, silk-lined box, which itself broke open, spilling an apple into the road. The cultists don’t notice this at first and busy themselves trying to cover the treasure.

The apple comes to rest at the boot of a Dwarf perfume salesman’s human guard – Gavin Hyland – who happily picks it up and starts eating it while watching the cultists scramble. Gavin gets really interested in the treasure and starts asking about it, at which time Half-Nose notices the broken box and Gavin eating the apple. Half-Nose smacks it out of Gavin’s hands and collects what’s left of the fruit, carefully placing the remainder back in its box.

April 13
One of the travelers – Rhetett Vuraga – was regularly seen mistreating his horses. He allowed their collars and girths to chafe sores in their hide, skimped on their feed, and whipped them when the aching, hungry animals didn’t pull hard enough or fast enough to suit him. One of them finally collapses, and the heroes intervene. After nearly coming to blows, Vuraga agrees to sell the horse to Gareth, who (along with Razar-De) stays behind a day to care for the creature.

April 16
A very friendly and, the party notices, very adept adventurer Jamna Gleamsilver joins the caravan, paying for passage on one of the wagons.

April 18
Gavin Hyland disappears. A brief search by the heroes found his battered body at the bottom of a nearby ravine with a broken neck and large gash across his gut. Investigation shows signs of poisoning, and that his injuries aren’t all from the fall. A deep wound in his gut was clearly inflicted by a blade.

April 20
Half-Nose and his crew finally recognize Gareth, Razar-De, and Tarathan. They assume the party are either deserters from the cult or spies, and warns them off interfering with their business.

April 25
On this beautiful, sunny afternoon, a herd of deer is spotted grazing on a nearby hill, including a magnificent stag that shimmers in the light as if its coat is spun from gold and its antlers plated with platinum. Nearly everyone in the caravan who can handle a bow wants to bring down that beast, but a few of the more cautious types warn that the creature was clearly a blessed being and that killing it would bring bad luck on the caravan. Despite their concerns, the hunt is on, and the deer herd scatter into the nearby forest.

Gareth and Tarathan join the chase, but more to protect the stag. The stag loses all of its hunters except the two heroes on a long chase to a moss-grown, ivy-draped stone ruin within a box canyon.

Cornered, the stag speaks, attempting to speak with the pair in an unfamiliar language before switching to broken Elvish. It assures them that they were on the right track, and they “must continue following the river of gold until they reach the castle in the sky”. Sadly, “their path will be filled with hardship and blood”. To aid them, it stamps a crumbling part of the floor, revealing an old but sturdy box containing an exquisite longbow. “Not all will survive," the stag sighs and lays resting before the remains of the ancient hearth. The heroes thank the creature and take their leave.

April 28
A torrential downpour begins, all but stopping progress for several days.

April 30
After two days and nights of rain, lightning, and strange whistling sounds on the wind, the party awakens to see that the surrounding countryside is blanketed with purple fungus, growing everywhere, including on the road.

Whenever anyone steps on a mushroom, it emits a puff of black spores and a horrible moan of pain. Unpleasant as it is, a party of volunteers is assembled to clear the road and proceed.

May 2
Jamna joins the party for breakfast, and takes the bowl of oatmeal that Tarathan is about to eat. After poking through the oatmeal with the blade of her dagger, Jamna lifts it out and shows the party an object resembling a tiny bead. She glances over her shoulder toward where cultists sit at their breakfast. "It’s a sliver of bone,” she whispers, “curled into a circle so you can swallow it in a mouthful of gruel without noticing. Once eaten, it slowly uncurls inside you, piercing your guts and killing you slowly. Let’s talk this evening.”

The heroes are suspicious of the halfling, but go to meet her that night after dinner. She says, “We don’t work for the same people, but we’re all on the same side – we share a belief that the Cult must be stopped. I need to know what they’re carrying in those wagons and where they’re taking it. Will you help me find out? We can do it tonight.”

The party volunteers neither to tell her about what they saw when the wagon spilled, nor to assist her with her plan. She departs friendly enough, but obviously disappointed.

May 4
The camp awakens to a killing. One of the cultists was murdered overnight. He was stabbed in the back with a sword and left where he fell beneath their wagon.

Half-Nose and friends immediately accuse the party and demand to inspect their weapons. They make a fairly weak argument, and the heroes are on such good terms with most of the caravan that without witnesses, most agree that nothing can be done, the gods will punish the guilty party and life will go on.

May 7
The caravan arrives in Torsuul a week later than expected, so payments and goodbyes are made quickly and the merchants scatter into the city. The heroes shadow the cultists’ wagon, following it north around the city wall, where it joins a small encampment of other wagons. Drianna learns that those wagons are headed east to repair a trade road between Torsuul and Exridge – they will join a work camp at the Carnath Roadhouse. After nightfall, Razar-De takes a closer look at this new caravan, and receives an odd note from a fellow watcher.

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Session Six
Covert Operations

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March 27, 1482

During the return trip to Greenest, much effort is put to figuring out a way to pry information from Frulam Mondath, but she is a committed fanatic. All efforts are only turned back on the party as she attempts to convert them.

They also notice she keeps a close eye on the sun, as if waiting for something. At noon while they are stopped for lunch, she seems to go into distress. She pitches forward violently and vomits, expelling a semi-solid mass of lumpy black jelly. Upon investigation, the lumps appear to be similar to frogs eggs – the size of a small pearl, slightly opaque with a black center. She offers no explanation for this, only haranguing the group, “You are as ants before a dragon. Unable to even comprehend what stands before you, much less hope to defeat it. Free me and survive a while longer … or join me and live forever in Her glory.” Gareth collects some of the vile muck and burns the rest.

After reaching Greenest, Escobert imprisons Frulam in the tower. That evening, Governor Nighthill interrogates her and asks the party to delay any travel until the morning and attend the questioning.

Nighthill: Who are you?

Mondath: Why waste time with what you already know? I am Frulam Mondath, Wearer of the Purple, disciple to the Wyrmspeaker Rezmir the Black.

Nighthill: Why did you attack Greenest?

Mondath: Our Lady demands tribute.

Nighthill: Where did your bandits go?

Mondath: Bandits? Bandits he says. Do you see how shortsighted you are? She sighs. My “bandits” left to rejoin our other “bandits”.

Nighthill: Who else is in this cult?

Mondath: Oh, Arendor, Margary, common folks like them. Auberon Lycus tucks us all into bed each night! Look for us everywhere.

Nighthill: What is your goal?

Mondath: Our Lady sings to us from the darkness. Wake, wake my children. Gather, and all will know my terrible beauty, and kneel before the five, for I am the patron saint of their demise.

Suddenly, Escobert, with dawning horror, orders her to name herself and declare her Heritage, to which Frulam smiles darkly, and answers with a short incantation in Draconic – “Horsebiter, Dusteater, Skinchanger”. A Snake clan!

Escobert shouts, “Kill her! Kill her now” as Frulam appears to be torn apart from within. Her head split apart, quivering razor-tipped tentacles emerged, and the body bursts free of its bonds, immediately killing a guard.

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At the same time, her entire abdomen seems to slough off onto the floor, revealing a misshapen, three-foot long ,wingless red worm – a disturbingly malformed monster that seems half snake and half dragon. This creature strikes out at Escobert, latching onto his leg and biting deeply.

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The heroes spring into action, destroying both abominations without further injury.

Although the banished Snake clan is known to be able to take the form of other humanoids, there is no record of this type of transformation, nor for this “parasite” within her.

Nighthill, shocked and traumatized, urges the party on to carry this news to Elturel.

March 28 – April 2

The party travels on horseback for Elturel.

April 2 – 3

When they arrive in Elturel, they are directed to the “headquarters” of the Order of the Gauntlet, a tavern called The Black Antlers. Ontharr Frume is there with Erlanthar, Nesim Waladra and a handful of Erlanthar’s other disciples.

When the characters meet Ontharr Frume, they find him to be a good-natured paladin of Kord, always ready with a drink and a laugh. When he sees Gareth for the first time, he says, “Is that Gareth Elvere? By Kord, my son, what happened? Were you ensorceled with shrinking magics? You’ve grown so small and infirm! Have you fallen ill son?” And then immediately tries to wrestle Gareth to the ground while crashing into tables and laughing.

After the reunion settles down, the party reports their experiences over a few rounds of ale and wine. After, the heroes are shown to rooms with instructions to rest and wash up, and return for dinner. Frume’s squire – a halforc named Zud Doriglar – is put at their disposal.

That evening, Zud welcomes them back to the inn, which has been closed to the public. Waiting for the party are the broad-shouldered human paladin, the monk, and many pitchers of dark red wine. The paladin’s face wears a serious expression, unlike its usual open countenance.

“My friends, we have important business to discuss. At this point, you know almost as much, or more, about the situation as we do, and thanks to you, we already know twice as much today as we did ten days ago. Something rotten is afoot. We have no formal organization to oppose this evil – not yet anyway. We’re working on that. And we need people like you, who know how and when to fight, and how and when to keep their heads down and observe. We can’t promise you anything except long days filled with danger and stress— but what could be better than that?”

Frume asks for the group’s continued help. He has already communicated with Captain Cortes, and the Radiant Servants will allow the party to be assigned an adjunct role to the Order of the Gauntlet.

Meanwhile, Erlanthar reveals himself to be a member of the Dullahan. Some of the party have heard of the Dullahan, but don’t know much about the secretive group beyond what is generally rumored: that the Dullahan are dedicated to furthering equality and justice and to keeping power out of the hands of those who don’t deserve it. Erlanthar explains that the Dullahan are loosely organized; agents are allowed wide freedom of action.

Ontharr Frume himself represents the Order of the Gauntlet. His order shares many of the Dullahan’s principles, but the two organizations are very different. The Order of the Gauntlet emphasizes faith, vigilance, and constant struggle against threats of evil. Many of its members are clerics and paladins, but the order welcomes anyone who shares its ideals. Discipline is key, and the order is distinctly more structured and hierarchical than the Dullahan, as both Gareth and Tarathan can attest.

Frume explains that the top concern of both groups presently is this Cult of the Dragon. In the past, the cult was small and more active far to the to the west. This new focus on Tiamat is a cause for concern. He tells them that the cult is on the move and it’s up to something big – and the Order of the Gauntlet, the Dullahan, and a third allied group known as the Emerald Enclave want to thwart the cult’s plans.

Frume and Erlanthar would like the heroes to go to Varsten, locate the caravans mentioned in Mondath’s recovered note, and accompany it on the journey. They could get themselves hired as guards— not by the cult’s wagon masters, but by other merchants who are traveling in the same direction at the same time. Merchants from different companies commonly join together to form larger trains for protection.

Their goals would be to:

  • Locate the cultists and/or Rezmir
  • Find out what caravan they are joining
  • Hire on to the same caravan
  • Follow the treasure, if possible sending updates to one of the organizations

Timing is an issue. The note from Mondath’s chamber indicates that the wagons of treasure were heading west to Varsten, but not where they were headed from there. Just getting to Varsten from the camp area would take about two weeks, depending on conditions (skirting the Ondo Mountains either way makes the trip much longer). Erlanthar does some quick mental math and says they likely have five days before the cult’s wagons depart Varsten.

The party has been booked passage on the Fishmaid’s Wish, an eastern frigate captained by a man named Yirdpool Yiss. Before they depart, Frume gives them a friendly contact in Varsten, Selebon Hogsbottom, who they should seek out on their arrival. He is the owner of Hogsbottom Freight & Conveyance, located just inside and to the west of the cities’ southern gate.

April 3 – 5

The heroes sail to Varsten aboard the Fishmaid’s Wish.

April 6 – 7

Hogsbottom Freight & Conveyance is located two blocks west inside the southern city gate. There he sells all the material needed for long-distance freight hauling: wagons, rope, netting, grease, chains, wheels, and so on. His shop also repairs wagons. He is not directly involved in the hiring of guards for caravans, but he knows people who are. Hogsbottom offers to vouch for the characters, and they should have no trouble getting hired on as guards for a caravan, but he isn’t aware of the presence of any cultists or half-dragons in town.

Hogsbottom suggests that a good day spent investigating the city might turn up some information. The party splits up and investigates areas of the city most applicable to their skillsets.

Gareth overhears a society woman gossiping – “I saw a palanquin, and one of their bearers slipped and the curtain started to open – a ghastly affair in and of itself, but I would swear to you that the hand that reached from inside to hold it closed was covered in black scales. This was just outside that abhorrent Foxtraveler place.”

Tarathan is spotted by a street urchin making a large donation to the local poorbox, and has an interesting conversation with him – “Where’d you get all that gold? Are you a dragon too? My friend Tomby said he seen a dragon in the city. But all shrunked down to people size! He said he thinks that dragon must be moving to a new cave so shrunk down its horde of treasure and is sneakin it through town. He saw him with his own eyes over at Samar’s place.”

Drianna speaks with an outer city bartender – “That Aravax’s place is strange. It’s supposed to be an outfitter, but it’s more like a hotel. I swear I saw four men with boxes, and I mean crates here, full of gold go in the back door two days ago. Now why would someone with that much loot stay in such a dump?” The Fox Traveler Outfitters, ruled over by Aravax Foxtraveler, a half elf , is protected by a handful of thugs and a hellhound Aravax keeps as an unruly pet. Drianna discovers that Aravax runs the local thieves guild, and pays him an interesting visit.

The party regroups. Although they suspect Rezmir is at, or at least visited, the Fox traveller, they decide not to investigate further at the moment. Instead, they follow Tarathan’s lead on “Samar”, who is a merchant called “Samar the Hope”. The next morning they track Samar down to his hotel, and join him for breakfast under the pretense of hiring on as guards for his caravan. He is sad to say he’s already hired enough guards, and points the heroes to a group of four men at another table. There, Razar-De recognizes one of the men from his half-missing nose as one of the cultists from the camp. Wanting to avoid recognition themselves, the party excuses themselves and leaves.

Having located the correct caravan, they party speaks with Hogsbottom and learns of some other merchants in the same caravan still in need of guards.

Edhelri Lewel is a Moon Elf Merchant, with a load of exotic wood from the Hawkswood in Rulos for the master carpenters and cabinetmakers of Torsuul to turn into exquisite furniture. She is impatient with people but exacting about her wagon and doting on her animals. She turns out to be quite odd, but agrees to pay each of them 25 gold for each of the three expected weeks of the trip.

April 8

The heroes report as instructed to Varsten’s North Gate, and the caravan departs for Torsuul.

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Session Five
The Hatchery, Part 2

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March 26 – 27, 1482

The party rested briefly, then moved into the cavern to the east. They could see that the room that opens at the bottom of the stairs was immense, and at the edge of their vision they could see the fragile curve of an enormous egg. A wide ledge ran along the left wall and dropped away to a pit on the right. Many stalactites and stalagmites filled the room, and the sound of dripping water echoed continuously. Like the other split-level cavern they discovered, this one also had a caged staircase that led to the lower level. Looking closely, they could count three of the great black eggs.

The groups light and movement awakened two guard drakes, who began sniffing and snapping near the gate. As they considered their next move, one of the stalactites began moving – it was actually a roper, and reached out to grab the party with its tentacles. The heroes attacked.

After latching on to Gareth and Tarathan and dragging them into range of the drakes, it surprised them all when it began to speak. “You’re not supposed to be here!” it shouted. It seems the roper had a deal with the cultists to not eat the eggs, but proposed that if the party brought it Frulam Mondath’s corpse, that deal would be ended (and it could eat her corpse).

The heroes decided against this and slew the roper and both drakes. After short deliberation, they also destroyed the eggs – the infant dragons within struggling for breath and squirming for a few minutes before dying.

Retreating back to a more secure room to the north, they took a short rest, then returned to explore a narrow crooked fissure to the west. After a few feet, it opened into a carpeted and well-appointed room, belonging to a very surprised Frulam Mondath. Quickly overwhelmed by the party, she was knocked unconscious and badly wounded, but captured alive.

Binding her mouth and hands, the group easily returned to the caverns’ entrance and snuck out of the deserted camp, intent on bringing their prisoner to Greenest to face justice before they move on to Elturel.

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