The Shadow of Dragons

Session Nineteen
Into the Darkness Below

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June 23, 1482 cont’d

The heroes took a moment to catch their breath, then returned to the kobold throne room. There they rejoined Venix and Jamna, and met with Yusdrayl the Trik Clan queen. They described their victory, and told her that the goblin chief Durnn and his warriors were dead. For their reward, the party asked for the key and flask they spotted earlier sitting on Yusdrayl’s throne. There was a great celebration among the kobolds, and the heroes retired for a much-needed rest.

June 24

Leaving Jamna behind to recuperate, the rest of the party returned to the sealed passage in the floor of the goblin throne room. They key did not fit; the seal’s only feature being a small dagger-sized slit along one edge. Rather than go searching for the proper key, they used the Chime of Opening recovered from Belak’s tower in Ossington. The portal irised open, revealing a hundred-foot drop to a cavern below, lined with damp vines.

With only a few near-death falls, the heroes descend … directly into combat with some sort of ghoulish undead gardeners. The group then slowly explored the strange underground mix of natural caverns violently merged with the lower levels of the collapsed citadel. In one side room, they slew a pair of goblins torturing a giant rat, which seemed to be infected with wood-like sores and tumors. In another, they defeated a monstrous creature with no head, just a giant mouth which made a strong effort to devour Tarathan.

The heroes explored the winding tunnels deeper into the earth. They explored an old library but opted to bypass an enormous magical dragon statue of unknown purpose. Finally, the hallways and tunnels opened into an enormous underground chamber. The cavern was softly lit by the purple glow of luminescent fungus, which took the shape of the strange rambling words last seen in Belak’s tower. The ground was covered in huge thickets of thorny bushes and a scattering of ruined structures, through which they could see a number of the twig creatures that attacked them on the surface.

And, several hundred feet across the chamber, the heroes could just make out the shape of an enormous black tree, softly backlit in the violet glow.

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Session Eighteen
Massacre in the Sunless Citadel

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June 23, 1482

The heroes returned to the kobold-held areas, dropping off Jamna in the relative safety of an unoccupied room. Venix (not present) volunteered to stay behind with her.

The rest of the party advanced quickly into goblin territory. They explored several passageways and used pitons to spike doors closed as they went. They located a room where the goblins were keeping the captured white dragon wyrmling Calcryx, but could not decide if they wanted to kill the creature or keep their bargain with the kobold queen Yusdrayl. Meepo was left to keep an eye on his former charge, and the party departed with a promise to return for them.

Shortly after, the heroes inadvertently stumbled directly into the Likho clan throne room and main living areas. A massive, chaotic battle ensued. The heroes, buoyed by Gareth’s Spirit Guardians, managed to rout the entire clan. They slew their chieftain Durnn, his priestess Grenl, and a horde of hobgoblins and Likho clan warriors.

As the battle turned against them, the “civilian” goblins – mostly women and children, found themselves initially trapped between the fighting and the spiked doors. Eventually they managed to batter down one door and dozens of goblins fled screaming out into the citadel.

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Session Seventeen
Old Friends and New

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June 22, 1482

The heroes search several rooms to the north, and fought several giant, mutated rats and their rat queen, Guthash. The queen radiated a sickly aura that caused the party some issues, and escaped through a tunnel beneath their nest. Searching the chamber, the party discovered a half-eaten body which could only be the ranger Karakas.

Doubling back, the group followed Meepo to the entrance to “goblintown”. Pushing through the door, an alarm was set off, and the party engaged two groups of javelin-throwing Likho-clan golbins. The heroes managed to overcome the goblins’ caltrops and other obstacles, slew the goblins, and secured the room.

Hearing pleas for help from behind one door, the group entered a small, dark room and discovered three kobold prisoners chained to the floor, and another small figure locked within a cage. The party freed the kobolds, who made their way back to the safety of their area of the citadel.

Within the cage the party discovered, to their surprise, a badly-wounded Jamna Gleamsilver. After providing what healing they could, the heroes retreated back a bit and secured the area, preparing to rest there for the night.

Jamna, in her frustratingly dodgy manner, told the party that she was following the trail of the leader of the Tiso monk clan, a woman named Hanira Redfall. This name, while new to the party, matched the partial name in Belak’s journal. This created great interest – especially from Razar-De.

Jamna told them that Redfall left from Torsuul and came here. Jamna followed, but was attacked by some shadowy beast and woke up a prisoner of the goblins. As best as she could make out, she’d been here about two weeks.

Much additional conversation followed, including an all-but-actually-saying-it confirmation that Jamna was working for the Black Network (some oath, geas, or spell seemed to prevent her from direct confirmation).

Meepo mentioned that now the goblins for sure knew they were coming, and asked the party if they wanted to continue on this “back way” into the citadel’s depths, or if they wanted to circle around and take the “main way”. The heroes rested and discussed their options.

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Session Sixteen
The Sunless Citadel

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June 17, 1482

The party accepts Leosin‘s offer to arrange the ritual. In the morning, the heroes gather outside the city, and are transformed into hawks. They spend three days in this form, flying north towards Oakhurst. In the meantime, horses will be sent to Oakhurst in preparation for the group’s return.

June 17 – 20

Flight to Oakhurst.

June 20

The party lands just to the east of the small village and recited the command to end the ritual. They walk into Oakhurst, making note of the various shops and residences, and decide to first visit the Ol’ Boar Inn.

The proprietor is a human called Garon. Garon, in the tradition of small-town inkeeps, is a font of local information, and the party learns several things:

  • Back around ’69, a grim man named Belak visited town. He seemed despondent, and left after a day or two, never to be seen again. He stayed at the inn, and said such odd things compared to their usual visitors that Garon never got over the sight of sadness in his face.
  • About a year later, goblins of the Likho clan, which infest the ruins deep within a nearby ravine, started showing up in town, selling a single, perfect red fruit. Once or twice a year since, they show up and offer one for sale to the highest bidder – which is almost always Mayor Vernor Ledota. Usually the fruit sells for around 50 gold, which is more than most people can afford. Garon claims that the fruit heals those who suffer from any disease or other ailment. A few villagers have tried planting the seeds to grow their own fruit, but as soon as saplings grow, they disappear – stolen back by the goblins no doubt.
  • A little more than a month ago, a paladin of Pelor named Ser Brayford and his retainer, a Ranger called Karakas, arrived in town with the intent to clear the old ruins. The local shopkeep, Kerowyn Koldricsson, has a brother Talgen and sister Sharwyn who hired on to accompany them. They set off one morning and have not returned.

The heroes next pay a visit to Kerowyn. She is initially suspicious, but eventually tells the party that her brother and sister were hired by the visiting Ser Brayford as guides and to help clear out the old ruins. Talgen is a man-at-arms, and Sharwyn is a magic user; both are sort of the local “adventurers” and Kerowyn expected they could handle themselves. Since the party mentions they are headed to the ruins, she asks them to look into her siblings’ fate. Worst case scenario, she offers 125 gold each for the return of their family signet rings.

The party wastes no time and departs for the ravine immediately. Night falls, and while camped for the night, they are attacked by some form of creatures, seemingly made of sticks. The battle is won with little damage to the party, but some puzzlement over exactly what the creatures were.

June 21

The next day, the party arrives at the ravine. There seems to have been a huge land bridge that crossed the ravine, the center of which collapsed long ago – apparently dropping a small fortress down into the darkness below. The heroes carefully climb down, discovering some rough-hewn steps leading to the ruined citadel’s gate.

A short dungeon crawl ensues, with the group battling giant mutated rats and falling victim to several traps. Eventually they come to a room with a broken cage, and a small runty kobold, wrapped in its bedroll, whimpering nearby. They grab the creature, and discover that he is Meepo, Keeper of the Dragon for the Trik Clan kobolds. He is generally weepy and frightened of the party, but they calm him down and get some information from him.

He says, “Our clan’s dragon … we lost him! The wretched goblins stole our Calcryx! Snuck in here a few days ago and killed my team and stole Calcryx!” Calcryx is a white dragon wyrmling that somehow the kobold clan got hold of and now keep as a mascot / future object of worship.

Meepo takes the party to Yusdrayl, the Trik Kobold Queen. Yusdrayl sits on a makeshift throne deeper within the citadel, surrounded by her clan. She meets with the heroes, and they learn quite a bit from her:

  • “Trik Clan is here to take back this holy site of dragons. Our tales tell of dragon worshippers here long ago, and we will take this place for our own.”
  • “The Outcast Belak is our hated enemy! He lives below, and grows the fruit. The dragon-thieving goblins work for him!” Until recently, the Likho goblin clan occupied the entire citadel, working for Belak.
  • Ser Brayford and his party were here, just shy of four weeks ago. Yusdrayl says she told them about the Outcast and his goblins below, and they headed off into the goblin-controlled area of the citadel. She has not seen them since.

A deal is proposed – if the party promises to retrieve their stolen dragon, Yusdrayl will send Meepo with them as a guide, to show them the “back way” into the goblin areas of the fortress. The party accepts, and Meepo leads them down several disused corridors.

In one such passageway, curiosity overcomes Gareth, and he opens a side door to investigate. Within, a lit candle sits on an altar next to a small glass whistle, and five sarcophagi line the walls. Gareth takes the whistle, and ghastly undead horrors burst from the sarcophagi. A lengthy battle ensues, with the party cleverly using Turn Undead to corral the creatures and pick them off one at a time.

The battle over, the party stopped to rest.

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Session Fifteen
A Tangled Web

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May 29, 1482

The party spends a lot of time discussing the journal and its implications. They decide to visit the wild elves and update them on the situation in Ossington. The heroes travel to where they met the elves before, and after a short while Vesley arrives and slowly leads them to the hidden glade.

Yellis and Zarn are there, and are happy to hear the news. They agree to keep away from the villagers for now to allow them to get back on their feet. Yellis says that they’ll stay away for a few months and meet the villagers at the traditional yearly meeting when it comes around again.

In the evening, Thilvara returns. She had left to speak with others of their kind, and brings some news.

She says, “The different tribes of Wild Elves range all through the northern forest, from here to Lake Ilman. There is some communication between us, and they have been hearing strange things. The creature clans of the Hallrag Fells are flush with gold, and had a gathering at the Black Oasis. Thurik Rotten Eye has raised an army of gnolls – Rotten Eye and War Dancer mostly, with some Red Skulls. Smartist Grimgrinder of the Smartist kobolds have come down from the mountains to join them. And now the Splithead orcs have a new leader called Glasha, and her tribe has been raiding Endsport and the northern border. War is coming to this land.”

With no other path apparent, the heroes decide to return to Exridge.

May 30 – June 9

The party briefly returns to Ossington, then departs for Exridge.

En route, Tarathan asks S.HAR.M.IN. about Doomward, the sword he took from Tully. S.HAR.M.IN. recites a summary about Durgeddin, the legendary dwarven smith.

“Eight hundred years ago, the great dwarven smith Durgeddin the Black was driven from his home by a horde of fierce orcs and trolls. They plundered his ancestral halls and slew all they could catch. Fleeing his enemies, Durgeddin led the destitute remnants of his clan in search of a new home. After years of wandering, the dwarves discovered a great cavern system beneath the Graypeak Mountains.

There Durgeddin and his followers founded the secret stronghold of Khundrukar—the Glitterhame, and their forges shaped some of the mightiest weapons of legend – Echo, the Ghost Blade. Thunderguard, hammer of the Mountain Lords. Dawnkeeper, spear of the Wulfblood himself.

A hundred years later, one of Durgeddin’s clansmen was captured by orcs during a raid, and a powerful orc tribe learned the secret of their enemy’s stronghold. The orcish chieftains raised a great army and marched on Khundrukar. In a hard-fought siege lasting months, the orcs tunneled around the dwarven defenses and stormed the place, putting all within to the sword. The monsters abandoned the scene, carrying off wagonloads of booty.

In the years since that great battle, legends say various goblin or orc bands have occupied the Glitterhame and used the dwarf-hold as a base for their raids. At other times, the caverns have lain empty except for the mindless and bloodthirsty monsters that haunt such places. Today legends of Durgeddin’s vengeance, the Smith’s War, and the extraordinary blades he forged still surface from time to time across the lands."

June 10

The heroes arrive in Exridge to see the city draped in gray and black mourning banners. Word quickly reaches them that yesterday, Auberon Lycus, First of the The Holy Church of Pelor passed away from his illness. Much discussion is had concerning the impact this may have, and whether Belak or The Sparrow may have been involved.

Travelling to the temple of Pelor, the group checks in with Captain Cortes, and learn that Zud Doriglar is preparing a meeting of the Lord’s Council at the Knight’s House on the other side of the inner city.

The party meets with Zud, who informs them that Ontharr Frume, Leosin Erlanthar, and Selebon Hogsbottom are all on their way to Exridge. They were all down south dealing with some trouble with the Cult of the Dragon, but should arrive on the 16th.

With nearly a week of free time, the party members set out on individual pursuits.

June 11

While Tarathan makes himself available to the Radiant Servants, Gareth, Razar-De, and Venix take the opportunity to do some research in the Great Library. They hire a scribe by the name of Wendil, who navigates the archives in search of any mention of “Belak the Outcast”, “Gulthias”, a tree which grows underground, or a “sunless citadel”.

Some luck is had – Multiple histories and records exist of the vampire Gulthias. The story is short on exact particulars, but more than a hundred years ago a party of heroes set out from the village of Oakhurst to confront a powerful vampire in his lair. At some point they climbed a mountain to a “castle in the sky”, and staked the vampire within.

This reference to a “castle in the sky” causes some excitement, as the same phrase was used earlier by the Golden Stag. Oakhurst is proposed as the group’s next destination.

Drianna spends most of her time at the business offices for Thornehart, Inc. Maedove “The Dove” Oriver has been taking care of things, and has hired Wump as a runner and general assistant. Wump is more than happy to tell the story of how he escaped the Carnath Roadhouse and made his way here, and is excited to have the opportunity to assist with solving “some for real mysteries”.

Maedove also has a letter she was unsuccessfully trying to deliver to Drianna, in reference to Jamna Gleamsilver:

“Hi Boss!

Hope this find you well and prosperous. Business is good, word has traveled up that you’re doing good things in the south so we’ve had a few new nibbles of interest.

I had to have a good long think about this halfling you mention. I knew I have some family settled in some small villages in the Midwoods called Gleamsilver. I think they’re a distant aunt’s relations, so this Jamna would be a distant cousin by my reckoning.

Armed with this, I went and talked to my (much closer) cousin Belfrey, who came, via Wolfspear, to Exridge from up around there and he recollects them quite well. Not into what we at Thornehart Inc. might call “legitimate business” if you catch my drift. Quite the opposite, as he remembers several Gleamsilvers as hanging for one offense or another. Belfrey thinks his sister’s husband’s uncle (on their father’s side) once owned a shop or tavern that saw some of the Gleamsilvers’ come around asking for protection money. Rumors of Black Network connections, that kind of family, you know?

I’ll try to get something else to you if something comes to light, but the first response to you in Greenest came back undeliverable – I guess you’d already moved on. Let me know if this is important enough to be worth spending a bit on a Sending. I’ll expense it!

Yours,
Maedove "

June 13

The heroes grudgingly submit to Wump’s request that they all get together for dinner. There is much discussion of current events. Wump reveals to Drianna that he looked into the Sparrow, and found out he was in Exridge back on May 2, and performed for the First – shortly before the First fell ill.

June 14

Tarathan, performing some routine duties with the Servants, overhears rumors that King Arendor Exridge IV has fallen ill now as well.

June 16

The Lord’s Council meets during the day, and in the evening Zud gathers the party to meet with them. Many topics are discussed:

  • The Council thanks the heroes for their work against the Cult of the Dragon. Ontharr tells them that with the deaths of Frulam Mondath and Dral Borngray, the Cult seems to be collapsing from within. Leaderless, the different raiding bands seem to have spun off on their own with little cohesion.
  • Who is Belak? Who is Gulthias? Where is the Sunless Citadel? Oakhurst is proposed as worthy of investigation to follow up the connection to Gulthias. Oakhurst is a small, remote village of no real import. No one has connections there, it’s out of the way and of no real political or military import. It’s about 10 days away by horse.
  • What are these fruit? What do they do, and who may have eaten them?
  • Is the Sparrow the PCs met the true Jozan Lostcaller? And if so, where is he and what is his part in all of this? Ontharr explains that The Sparrow just performed for Tammen’s birthday on May 31. Both the King and Prince Tammen were present. The Queen and the princess Elenda were busy elsewhere during the performance. Now, the King is ill. If he dies, Margery will become Queen regent and Tammen will succeed the King even though Elendra is older. Elendra is brilliant, and would make a formidable Queen regnant, but tradition says the title goes to sons. Or to the church if there are no sons. There is discussion as to whether or not the King and Prince received the strange fruit from the Sparrow, and what effects it may have on them.
  • Leosin speaks about the First’s death. A synod will be called to replace him, and Second Aldgus Haspar is favored to be the new First. Haspar comes from the north, and is a hard-line member of the church who views divine magic as the only acceptable form of magic and “has been known to burn a witch or two.”
  • Who is this “…fall” person? Is this the Red Woman from Rezmir’s letter?

Time becomes an issue, as the heroes want to get to Oakhurst and return as quickly as possible, before the King dies or the synod begins. Leosin offers to arrange a druidic ritual that would transform the party to hawks so they could fly to Oakhurst in three days, but would have to arrange their own return transport. Someone proposes that they could make arrangements for horses to be delivered to Oakhurst so they are ready when the party wants to return.

A decision is made to travel to Oakhurst, but no decision is made as to how.

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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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belak_journal2.png

belak_journal3.png

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belak_journal5.png

belak_journal6.png

belak_journal7.png

belak_journal8.png

belak_journal9.png

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:

secrit_note.png

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:
2_-_Rezmir_s_Note.png

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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