Darkest Waters

Shattered Gods and Brewing Turmoil
In which our heroes stumble onto more than one mystery.

The paladin and his companions laid to a proper burial,our heroes continue on the trail of the bandits who destroyed the Vistani caravan. With every passing day, Alar becomes more frustrated. Though he still finds goblin and demi-human tracks, sometimes even missed, he is ever more certain they have lost the trail that led them into the Heldast Wood. When they discover a fairly fresh battlefield littered with goblin and gnollish dead, they fall back to a secure campsite and discuss their options. Nithauk lags behind slightly, plucking up a few more of the gnollish weapons for his growing collection. What they lack in sophisticated materials, they compensate for with insidious cunning. Natural toxins, dirty tricks, and ferocity take the place of metal and technology. The rogue is fascinated by the dichotomy, and by the practical worth of knowing how to fashion a weapon in the wild.

At some length, through most of the afternoon and evening, our heroes debate their course of action. They do not wish to abandon the meager trail they have lightly. If it is the right one, backtracking might mean they never catch their quarry. On the other hand, if they are following the wrong trail now, they face the same problem. At last, they reach a majority vote to backtrack. One additional factors weighs on this decision, and that is the ever increasing gnoll presence. It is unlikely the kidnappers have traipsed deep into gnoll territory. If they have, our heroes have lost their chance at direct vengeance, for the gnolls will have done the job for them. They are keenly aware that even a small gnollish war party, as opposed to a hunting party, would be the end of them.

So it is that a few days hence they find themselves almost back to the site of their battle with the gnoll hunters. Alar now chooses one of the other trails, discarded as less likely at the time. He mutters to himself more than once in elvish, and finally reveals the source of his concern around the fire one night. The kidnappers seem to be deliberately mixing their tracks with others, taking a less efficient route so as to better obfuscate their trail. This means that they are aware they might be followed, and possess the skill to protect against it. Both are worrisome prospects. “Bandits” skilled in a tracker’s craft is yet another indicator that these are no simple thugs, but well-trained mercenaries on a specific mission. And they will not be easily taken unawares, overconfident in their sense of secrecy. They are expecting trouble… preparing for it.

These thoughts make Alar grumpy and tense, his longbow constantly strung, with an arrow loosely knocked. The ranger and his weapon travel under equal levels of tension. Kane Raziel notices that the ranger hunts often in the evening and morning hours, supplying them with a steady diet of rabbit, squirrel, and even a small deer. The meat is always a tiny bit dry, and the kill is always dressed far from camp. For his own part, the warlock is forced to concede in his private thoughts that his vengeance for the slaying of kin might not come quickly. This fills him with a quiet rage, falsely calm and laced with a sort of morbid clarity. It is the sort of anger that takes root down deep, like an arrowhead left behind in a wound. You learn to almost savor it; and in the half-dreams before sleep, you imagine the shape it will take when it finally comes forth. By the time he catches those who killed his brethren, it is safe to say proportionate will not describe the justice he metes to them.

Nearly two weeks after first entering the Heldast Wood, they see the trees thinning to the west. They are nearing the Splitrock Dale. In truth, some of them still remember other motivations than vengeance, and are excited. From Rathlaris to Karipur, all who have mentioned the Dale have painted a fascinating picture. An inexplicable rift carved into the land for miles, as if a titanic creature of legend had struck an axe into the earth. Sheer rock walls, and a rolling valley. Flora and fauna almost entirely unrelated to that found on all sides of the Dale, just 60 feet up. In short, a mystery of nature. It would be safe to say that our heroes, to varying degrees, love a good mystery. One does not endure and risk what they have to leave home, without possessing curiosity in near measure to courage. There are places to skulk on the borders of Arkandia, without making the near-suicidal journey across The Anthalp Vast.

However, their collective anticipation is brought up short by yet another obstacle. A very large goblin war party is encamped on the fringes of the Heldast Wood, right in their path. In the fading twilight, they can see no less than a dozen bonfires. The kind of war party that could half-destroy Tilburne, and rob it of most able-bodied men in the town. The kind that could lay waste and slaughter to every farm north of the Churnwash. Thankfully, the goblins seem to have an older axe to grind, and are marching into the forest rather than out. For many hours, our heroes deliberate. They could harry the goblins for a time, killing sentries and scouts with relative ease. A frontal assault is foolhardy, but they could whittle the force down over days. Days they don’t really have. And a risk they might not be able to afford.

In the end, discretion is ruled the better portion of valor, and our heroes leave the goblins to their vendetta. Let the gnolls and goblins do as they have always done, killing each other in numbers enough to leave the more civilized area of Farandale mostly unmolested. Slipping around the war party to south, their trekking is at last rewarded just a day later. As far as they can see to the north and south, the land is split. A towering cliff drops into the valley of Splitrock Dale. It is immediately evident that this is not the ideal place to descend. Especially not with horses. While Nithauk is over the side before anyone realizes his intention, and standing on the grass 60 feet below in less than a quarter-hour, most of them would be hard pressed to make it down safely. Grudgingly, the Goliath revers his path, climbing back to the top with equal ease. His rope and climbing gear never leave his pack, and the rogue looks like he might have been born on a cliff.

Rather than try and emulate his feat, our heroes decide to seek the easier path mentioned by Karipur. At the southern and northern ends, the ranger had said, the way down is much easier. To say Nithaul sulks a little is to trivialize the emotion. But it would not be far wrong. So it is that the rogue constantly jogs ahead an hour, and then climbs up and down the cliff until they catch up. Bathed in a sheen of perspiration, hands blistered and scraped, granite dust covering knee, torso, and shoulder… they have not seen the Goliath this happy in a very long time. Cuts is reminded of a time he and the Goliath spent half a week near a towering ruins back in Arkandia, while Nithauk tried to find a route he could not climb. Fortunately for the Warforged, sitting and waiting was a skill he perfected long before almost anything he’d learned since. Centuries of practice, in fact.

True to Karipur’s word, the southern end of the Dale proved to be a fairly easy descent. Lead ropes are set to guide and aid the horses, and they are all down into the valley in about an hour. It is every bit as alien as they were told. The grass… the shrubs… the exposed stone… it is as if they had traveled in the hour’s descent across as vast a range as the Vast. It defies their understanding of nature, and is a marvel in its own right. But, they are not here solely to explore, as Kane reminds them in his particular brand of tactful. No, not gentle prodding. Yes, much more the glowering and muttering. Exactly that. Natural wonders could wait until the bandits were flayed of life, and their souls lost in the hells befitting their kind. And other such witticisms.

So they set forth, sweeping east to west as they moved steadily northward. They are looking for tracks, or a hideout, or any other sign of the kidnapper bandits. Along the way, they notice some things about the Dale. Cover is sparse. They are trudging over the most subtle of hills, barely ripples on the plain. Here and there, a thrust of granite carved smooth by wind and rain. Or a slightly thicker copse of trees. Now and then, a shallow cave in the cliffs. In the morning, any fog is gone before the sun is even half risen. At night, there is rarely any mist. A fire would be visible for a long, long way. After weeks in the woods, they feel like they’ve wandered into a town square on market day before realizing they had on only a nightshirt. Very exposed.

Until suddenly, out of nowhere, there is a shadow on the horizon. The shadow resolves into a hill. A real one. The hill reveals itself to be studded with great boulders. And littered with vibrant foliage. Here, in the middle of an almost flat expanse of savanna, a massive geological feature. They race to it, climb it, and get their first good look across the Dale since they looked down on it from the cliffs. It is huge. And flat. As far as they can see. Cliff to cliff. Except here. However, the rolling vista quickly ceases to hold their attention when they find a new wonder. The hill is actually three hills; one large in both height and breadth, further topped by two smaller hills. And nestled between the two hills is the fragment of a god.

Blacker than night, smoother than ice, covered in fine cracks from which spill a rose-hued glow intense enough to combat the sun for recognition. And holding within it sufficient Arcane power to destroy everything for leagues in all directions. They do not recognize it at first. The truth comes slowly, as they discuss all they know about history and legend, magic and myth. Kane speaks of the magic within it, Alar of its alien nature. Content Not Found: pc-scir tells of its durability and age, while Nithauk notes how it seems to belong here. The ground is smooth around it, not disturbed. Mikal offers a wager or two about their ability to move it. Cuts notes that the stone feels to him like he feels to himself. A thing, but more. Made, but then somehow remade by its own hand. Ezio speaks aloud of fallen gods. And finally they know it for what it is.

The gods are not permitted to walk Kor. All things within the world must be of it, and mortal. Gods act through their Saints and Artifacts. This is well known. Ezio does not commune with Kord when he chants his morning prayers and performs his martial katas. He honors his god through his brave actions and wise strategy, but it is to a Saint that he prays, a conduit between him and his god. If Kord hurled himself onto the world, he would be sundered. Dead and broken to pieces. His divine power scattered across the world in pockets and pools. Or perhaps, slabs of stone. Once they say it aloud, they know it can be naught else. Somehow, sometime, a divine being suffered this fate, and here lies a fragment of that being. It is a marvel beyond easy description. Mikal struggles to recall a song that conveys accurately the majesty and tragedy of it. You hear of such things… you never imagine you will find them… touch them.

For the first time in weeks, Kane feels some semblance of peace, and his quest for vengeance drives him less ferociously. All of them note the aura which emanates from the stone. It is not so large. Perhaps 10 feet tall and wide, about twice that in length. within a much larger area around it, they feel… not just safe or merely calm, but… cared for. Nurtured. It is a mother’s embrace when you are sad. A friends’ presence when you are lonely. A healer’s hand when you are in pain. A crackling hearth when you are cold, the scent of baking bread when you are hungry. It is comfort without numbness. Peace without sleep. It is perhaps this aura that keeps them from panicking when Scir sees the dust plumes to the north, approaching fast.

They are in the open, save for this hill. If they run, they will be exposed. If they hide they will be surrounded. There is wood and water here, but their food will run out. They have high ground, but this is no fortress. An enemy would have to fight to reach them, but there is no barrier to protect them save their own weapons. They do no panic. They barely worry. Determined, resolute, prepared… they gather to high and hidden points, and ready their weapons. The minutes pass, and the dust plumes turn dark where they touch the ground. The dark splits into shapes. The shapes resolve into figures. Ezio is the first to recognize the figures. Goblins. And worgs. And goblins on worgs. The worst sort of combination. It might surprise you that our heroes do not quake at this. They certainly face injury and loss. They might even die.

Perhaps it is here, in the shadow of a god-shard, that they remember the truth they forged between them while struggling together across the Anthalp Vast. Together, they are immortal. When they leave their lives on the field of glory, they will enter the realms of gods whole beings. Not broken into relics to be scattered and forgotten. They are heroes; the gods are merely witnesses.

A Curse Lifted, A Grave Discovered
Our heroes stumble onto a cursed patch of forest and battle a dread foe.

Having defeated the gnolls, and very eager to be far from that site before any more happened along, our heroes press on. Another few days of hard travel pass, as they battle dense undergrowth, rugged terrain, and an increasingly difficult trail. Ahead, they see that the forest seems to thin, and speed up. Perhaps they are soon to be free of this place. If Alar is correct about where they are, they will find themselves on the High Reach Moor. They break from the thick woods at the bottom of a steep and rocky slope. But, they are not clear of the Heldast Wood. Instead, they have stumbled down into a large glen. For hundreds of paces in all directions, the land is fallow. Bare mud and gravel, hardy and altogether ugly weeds, and barren trees extend away from them.

The blight seems to completely fill a crude splotch of land, ringed by steep ridges and naked granite. The edges of it are jagged, but the overall shape seems to be an oval. The denuded trees are covered in a sickly lichen, long since stripped of small branches and even bark. They are gleaming skeletons of once-proud trees. Here and there, the low places in the glen are full of a black muck, almost like tar in appearance. The air holds the smell of rot and death, with an underlying caustic tang, likely from the pits of muck. It is Nithauk whose sharp eyes pick out a metallic gleam in the heart of the glen, while the others are largely pondering whether or not to skirt the blighted area and climb back of the ridge. Accompanied by Mikal, who never seems to question a gamble, they start out towards the glimmer Nithauk sees. The rest follow, some with more reluctance than others. Cuts and Alar, in particular, seem loathe to set foot on the blighted ground.

All of them notice, as they cross the muddy ground, that the sun seems muted here. Perhaps there is a haze in the air? Something that diffuses the midday light, at least. As they reach the center of the forbidding glen, they can all clearly see the half-buried, skeletal remains of demi-humans. Elf, dwarf, human… a sizable group… fell here long ago. The exposed sections of bone are bare and dry, betraying how long they have been here. Bits of rusted metal and rotted leather are visible as well, the long decayed remnants of armor and weapons. They are, it seems, standing in a graveyard of sorts. The glimmer seen by Nithauk is now obvious to them all. A bastard sword is sunk blade-first into the muddy ground, about half its length. Despite the predation of time and the elements, there is not a spec of rust on it. In fact, the blade bears a faint glow. Closer inspections reveals actual gold inlay on the pommel and cross-guard, while the grip is wrapped in the finest bronze-colored hide. The blade itself seems crafted of some golden alloy, or perhaps a highly polished bronze. A nobleman’s weapon, and clearly enchanted. Nithauk grasps the hilt and heaves the weapon free of the muck.

Or ties to. Instead, his muscles strain and bulge, and the sword slides a few inches up. At the same time, the glen darkens still further, to a twilight gloom. A chill breeze sweeps over the dead trees, leaving our heroes shivering in their summer garb. An eerie keening sound, unnatural and most definitely not the wind, fills the air. All around them, the ground heaves and splits open. A hand here, a head there… corpses, to all appearances… clawing their way from the earth. The undead. A dozen or more of the long-dead bodies, preserved by vile necromantic magic and animated by some evil intent, heave up from the muddy earth and surround our heroes. Even more terrifying is the ghostly form that takes shape floating above one of the largest of the black pools. The keening sound rises in volume and pitch, and seems to literally coalesce into the form of a hovering, malevolent spirit. The wraith advances on them as well.

The battle descends almost instantly into confusion. The cohesion that has marked their fighting style in the past evaporates in the face of so terrifying and implacable a foe. Not even The Anthalp Vast held horrors like this. Alar climbs a tree and sets arrow to bow string. Cuts surges forward from the rear, only to be faced by a trio of the walking dead and separated from his allies. Nithauk scrambles to stay clear of the zombies, flinging knives and seeking some vulnerability in their rotting flesh. Ezio calls on the Divine power Kord, and radiant power emanates from his holy symbol. The nearest zombies, as well as the advancing wraith, recoil from the divine energy, but not for long. Mikal invokes his battle songs, but the undead seem less impressed than most foes.

Kane Raziel also finds himself less effective at first, as the zombies seem incapable of fear. A telekinetic shove proves effective enough at dumping one into the nearest black pool. Mikal mimics this tactic, tripping one up and sending it splashing in. The pools prove shallow, a foot or so deep at most, but seem to visibly slow the already shambling creatures. Content Not Found: pc-scir avoids fancy tactics, and does not rely on intimidation here. His axe rises and falls with grim purpose, as he wades directly into the thickest part of the battle. At first, this seems to be effective, but as the battle wears on, the barbarian finds himself tiring and slowing. The wraith’s mere presence seems to drain all who draw near of vitality, sapping the strength from their limbs and the will from their hearts. All around it, our heroes find themselves increasingly sluggish, weakening in both resolve and vigor.

Slowly, they manage to dispatch the zombies. Cuts drives them into the black pools repeatedly with his shield, and then cleaves at them with his sword. Alar is dragged from his tree by one of the zombies, and is forced to sprint away, still firing arrows as fast as he can. Scir falls, and neither Nithauk or Mikal are far behind. Desperately, Ezio lashes out with another prayer, washing the wraith with holy fire. This seems to push back the darkness a little, and return some vigor to his allies. It seems it may not be enough, as zombies grab the cleric and hold him in place. The wraith turns its malevolent gaze on the cleric, and Kane beside him, advancing. Its chilling arau spills over them, even as Nithauk and Mikal struggle to regroup. Alar revives Scir, and Cuts advances. Even gathering their second wind, and battling back from the brink, they are hampered. The very air itself seems to smother them, weaken them, pull at their will and resolve.

Kane reaches out with a spell, engulfing one of the zombies on Ezio in fire. Nithauk’s well-placed dagger flips end over end to splits rotten skull and finish it. Cuts smashes another to the ground with his shield, and Scir’s axe cuts it clean in two. With a defiant shout, Ezio calls on Kord once more, lashing the wraith with yet another blast of holy fire. This time it does not shrug off the assault, but recoils and collapses in on itself. The shrieking sound it made when it formed is heard again, but this time it fades away on the wind. The last of the zombies falls to the earth, felled by Mikal’s dagger. The chill fades before the summer breeze, the sun burns through the haze, and the glen brightens considerably over the next few minutes. Above the glowing sword, a new apparition forms, suffused with light and without any hint of menace.

Bleeding, exhausted, gasping for breath, our heroes listen in wonder as the being speaks. It introduces itself as the soul of Sir Kelthim Farthane, paladin of Erathis and Lord of Farandale. An evil curse, enacted by a dying cultist, had trapped him here to die of his own injuries. His men were slain around him, as the fallen enemy rose again as undead. Though the cult was destroyed, it came at tremendous cost. Killing the dark and twisted creature, the last remnants of the cult leader’s soul, has broken the curse. Kelthim is free to rest in the embrace of his goddess. He bids them peace and fortune, and asks only that they give a proper burial to the remains of his slain companions. His possessions he bids them carry to his living descendants, if indeed any remain. Or, if the items will aid their cause, to wield them towards good and just ends. With that, the apparition fades, and the fallow glen is just another forgotten graveyard in the forest. No more evil blight, no more dark curse. In time, the forest will reclaim this place, as Alar can already sense.

They spend a handful of days at the difficult task of exhuming the remains of the paladin’s companions from the muddy ground. More than a dozen men in all, including the paldin himself, fell here. The cultists, turned to zombies by the curse, crumble to dust with its end, burned out by the necromantic magics. In addition to the golden bastard sword, they find a few other items of worth have survived the decades. A sturdy oaken shield, a silvered dagger of unique design, an ornate scroll tube, a single metal bracelet, and a very nice piece of jewelry. They also find a large amount of coin, untouched by the passage of time or the elements, totaling over 200 gold in value.

With A Baron's Blessing
Our heroes ride out under the banner of Lord Farthane.

Armed with a Writ of Arrest, authorizing them to carry the fight to the bandits in the name of the Baron, our heroes embark once more on their quest. Now, they ride for more than just missing Jalenna. Lord Farthane opens his storerooms to the adventurers, bidding them take what goods they need to begin their investigation. Those items which are enchanted, or otherwise difficult to find, he asks a portion of the market value be paid toward replacing the items. He also grants them their pick of two draft animals. Much of Farandale is ill-suited to riding, and the Baron has only a handful of mounts. Moreover, our heroes are bound for the Heldast Wood and Splitrock Dale, where even pack mules will slow them down. Never the less, the ability to carry additional food and water, along with additional equipment like rope, will allow them to explore further from town, and for longer periods.

Nithauk and Mikal compare the new Writ with what they recall of the forgery they took from the bandit Jorlanis two months before. The forgery was well done, and it is clear that the author of it had seen an official document before. In truth, unless one had a real Writ in hand to compare, or great familiarity with such documents from the Baron, the forgery would fool them. Only the keen eye of a skilled rogue detected the flaws in an otherwise convincing fake. These are no two-copper bandits they are facing. The local thugs duped by Jorlanis were, without question, far less skilled… and far less dangerous. Wherever these new bandits came from, they are better trained and better equipped. Content Not Found: pc-scir still bears the scar from the bandit axe that nearly ended his life, and they have only to glance at their comrade to recall how close it came. No matter, our heroes know what caliber of opponent they face now, and will not be surprised again.

Returning to the Howling Moor, Alar picks up what trail he can from the site of the ravaged caravan. The tracks are confusing, running across other older tacks, and occasionally mixed in odd combination. Goblinoid… humanoid… some barefooted and some booted… they either track an unlikely alliance of kidnappers, or there is more than one group on this trail. In any case, they all but lose the tracks in the dense undergrowth of the Heldast Wood. Steep-sided ravines, sudden thrusts of bare granite, scrub evergreens, thorny shrubbery, and thick moss everywhere. Between searching for tracks, and navigating the terrain itself, they make slow progress. The horses slow them down, but there is no denying the value of an extra couple hundred pounds of rope when they have to negotiate rugged obstacles to their path. Or the extra water, as streams prove scarce in the dry, rocky forest.

Many days into the rocky ravines and dense undergrowth of the woods, Alar reports an oddity. Unless they have utterly lost the trail, it is moving more north than west, and might not intersect the Splitrock Dale at all, instead passing around its northern end. Gathering around, they consult their map of the region, given them by Rathlaris. If Alar is right, they have traveled deep into the heart of the forest, almost to the edges of the area their map covers. In the midst of this discussion, they are subjected to a sudden attack. One of the more pressing dangers of the wild reaches of Farandale are the vicious and feral gnolls. Like the goblins, they are usually more cunning than intelligent, and a fearsome foe when gathered in packs.

The bestial creatures charge down from a slope to the northeast, snarling and yipping. Fortunately, they seem to be a small hunting party, rather than a large war party. Were it the latter, our heroes would stand little chance. As it is, the battle is quickly and feircly joined. Scir’s mighty roar does not deter them, though his axe bites through their hide well enough. From higher up the hill, crude javelin’s rain down, and soon they feel the subtle threat manifest. A simple poison, deadly enough over time, burns in the veins of Alar, Nithaul, Ezio, and Kane. Cuts and Scir battle in the thick of it with the charging skirmishers, while Mikal works his way up the hill towards the javelin-flinging gnoll. His attack, coupled with its warbling battle song, confuses the creature. It flails about trying to engage the bard, staggering down the hillside and into the midst of the battle.

In just minutes, it is over. The gnolls are slain, and Ezio tends to their wounds. The poison is dealt with. Nithauk is especially interested in its workings. A crude, but effective, technique has been used to combine a simple poison with pine sap. This is then baked on to the wooden javelins, hardening the ends and infusing the toxic substance into the weapon. In truth, all the gnolls use crude, primitive tools of war. Where they have strength in their numbers and savagery, they lag behind the goblin races in armaments. This keeps the two hostile species in balance with one another, and keeps either group from becoming too great a threat to the settled portions of the frontier. It is a delicate equilibrium , and one our heroes can well appreciate, having experienced life along the edge of The Anthalp Vast.

A Quest Completed, New Leads Emerge
The flooding problem addressed, but there are other concerns afoot.

Our heroes report to Sir Damien Catharn that the flooding problem seems to be dealt with. The middle-aged knight is cautious in his praise, but promises them the agreed upon sums if the marsh has not worsened by the autumn harvest. This reminds them that it is already midsummer, and the matter of Jalenna’s disappearance has passed from minor concern to an almost grim certainty that the young woman has perished. Her parents hold a small funeral service for her at the temple of Erathis. Only her increasingly desperate fiance Randen seems to hold out any hope. Well, he and Kane. The warlock is quite convinced of a conspiracy afoot to kidnap spell casters, and his comrades share some of his suspicions. It seems like it may be time to meet the baron.

They take to the river once more, now enjoying free passage on the Temlaran company barges,
after their recent heroic stand against the bandits. They do not have actual values on the cargo they saved, but it was almost certainly many times what they have in personal assets. Prudently, they say nothing to the company foreman about their suspicions that the real target was not the cargo at all. Back in Samurth that evening, they camp the night beyond the walls. By now, the rivermen and merchants have agreed that they late barges are not ever going to show up. Tensions still run high between some of the rival business interests, but no one really credits sabotage for the missing barges. River travel carries many risks, and disaster strikes all the time. This is the more reasonable explanation, and all but a few hot-heads one flagon too deep into the evening say differently.

The missing pilgrims are a more worrisome thing. This region takes their holy festival seriously, and missing members of the church is no small matter. Of course, the overland route across the Howling Moor is even more dangerous than the river. Any number of tragedies could have struck, as most everyone admits readily. However, where losing a barge full of good crewmen and expensive cargo is distressing but ultimately business as usual, losing clergy who come to venerate a local saint is much harder for the populace to accept. There are those who wonder aloud why the baron’s militia guards the town and surrounding land, but does not bother searching for the pilgrims. Most who mutter this do so with a degree of restraint, and to their credit, the militiamen ignore it. A few, well into their cups, get belligerent and confrontational with the watchmen. The hard knock to the head, a night in the stockade, and a stiff fine are enough to teach them wisdom. Or at least keep them too short of coin to afford drinking that much for a while.

Amidst this atmosphere of summer business and ambient tension, our heroes march away from Samurth along the road to Faranhold. Along the way, they pass a contingent of militiamen. The soldiers submit our heroes to minimal scrutiny, beyond ensuring that no skulduggery is afoot. Even glowering Kane draws barely a second glance. Curious stares are cast at Nithauk, while Cuts is completely ignored. Content Not Found: pc-scir, as always, is subject to a certain mix of awe and fear in their appraisal. Ezio receives a very respectful nod from more than one man in the militia. The god of battle probably has many an adherent in their number, the region’s fealty to the goddess of civilization notwithstanding. Alar barely draws any notice, and the elf seems to like it that way. Mikal draws exactly as much attention as he wants to, as is the nature of bards.

At the gates of Faranhold, they are received with chilly welcome at first. Adventurers seem to have a mixed reputation in the house of Farthane these days. However, their letter of introduction from Sir Catharn lights a fire in the hearth of hospitality. Once its seal has been verified, and its contacts read by the Senaschal of Faranhold, they are promptly embraced as guests. By evening, they are seated at a large table in the audience hall of the current baron, Lord Sandrioc Farthane. An man of advanced years, he has not entirely lost the charisma and ambition of his youth, and they can tell he is yet a formidable leader. A harsh winter might claim his life, but beyond that, he is still a capable ruler. Present also are the baron’s youngest two children, the prince and heir Lythios, and his older sister Lady Moiryssa. The other scion of the family who still lives in the region does not join them for dinner. Nimarianne long ago set aside her noble title to don the vestments of Erathis and serve the church.

Dinner is pleasant at first, as our heroes regale the aging baron with tales of their exploits, and he speaks of his family’s proud history in the region. Though it is impossible that the man has missed their foreign accents and garb, no mention is made of their homelands or reasons for leaving. Adventurers are expected to have a lack of roots most anywhere they are encountered, and Farandale is no exception. It is why they are so often distrusted, and also so sought after. The cynical would say it makes them expendable, and the naive would say it makes them romantically mysterious. The truth is both, and everything in between. Men and women without roots can sometimes become the most loyal of all. They are free to act on their principles, without obligations to blood or banner tainting their motivations. However, they are also free to sacrifice their fleeting reputation and leave for parts unknown, having less to lose in the process. A double-edged sword, are adventurers. The old baron clearly knows this as well as anyone, perhaps more so. His forebears settled the region with the aid of adventurers, and yet adventurous bandits remain a daily threat.

When dinner comes to an end and the conversation turns to serious matters, the veneer of pleasantry is quickly stripped away. Kane’s patience wears out and he directly confronts Lord Sandrioc, taking him to task for doing nothing about the kidnapping of spell casters, of abandoning his people even as they need his strength of arms. His rebuttal is swift and equally impassioned. There is no proof of any such conspiracy. One maiden vanished, however tragic, is no grand plot. Bandits and adventurers at odds is neither a new thing or of particular importance in the day to day concerns of a baron’s people. Never the less, the aging ruler concedes that the real problem is that he has nowhere near enough men to police ever hill and vale in his lands. In the end, he offers to compensate them if they will lend their aid to investigating the matter. Starting, he implores them, with the worrisome matter of the pilgrims.

Our heroes agree, and set out for the Howling Moor. It is a desolate region, unfit for farming, and barely fit for grazing land. Damp late into the summer and foggy well into even the brightest afternoons, it is no wonder that superstitions abound regarding the rolling low lands. The distant howling sound that grants this region its name could easily be some otherworldly beast, as legends say. Or it could be the keening of the wind as its drops into the moor from over the Shattered Hills or the Heldast Wood. Regardless, these are not shepherds and farmers. They have crossed The Anthalp Vast, and do not fear a little mist or rabid dogs. Thus, our heroes forge bravely on, traveling into the moors without a backward glance. The mists close around them, wetting their armor and dampening their garments. Kane seems downright thrilled at the foreboding flavor of it all, but his (relatively) high spirits prove short lived.

On the fourth day out, they see the carrion birds. Their worst fears, and those of many in Farandale, are confirmed. The only question remaining is whether the caravan met with its end at the hands of wild monsters or malicious men. That question is laid to rest all too soon, and the answer proves Kane’s dark prediction true. Not that this is any consolation to the warlock, as he learns the victims of this attack are closer to his heart than he could have guessed at his most cynical. The Vistani roam Kor, as they do most worlds and even the far Planes, as eternal wanderers without roots. They adopt any who are worthy of their familial bond, and the ties between these mixed peoples run far deeper than blood. Ritual magic, fierce loyalty, and a kinship as timeless as destiny ties them together across worlds. Their caravans travel everywhere, regardless of hardship or borders. The merchants and religious pilgrims were traveling in the company of just such a caravan, and the Vistani were slain beside these men of coin and prayer indiscriminately.

One youth clings to life as they arrive, his endurance spent, his life bled out, and only the last remnants of will keeping him from the Raven Queen’s realm. He imparts a message with his final breath, passing his oath of vengeance on to a brother.

“Bandits… they took the priests… led by a man with hair of fire… a crimson hand… he had hell in his eyes… the stink of rotting fish on the wind…”

and then the death rattle and words that only Kane seems to understand.

They burn the wagons to drive back the mist, while Scir’s mighty roar scatters the carrion birds and hungry wild hounds across the moor. The bodies are given a proper burial. After some lengthy debate, our heroes decide to bring what supplies and mercantile goods they can carry back to Faranhold. These they turn the over to the chapel of Erathis, so some positive end might be achieved. Armed with proof that the bandits are indeed targeting spell casters for kidnapping, they seek audience with the Baron once more. This time, it is not wild conjecture or faint rumor, and they find Lord Farthane much more receptive to their words.

Just When You Thought All Was Lost
A bargain is struck and our heroes take the high road.

The standoff is like something out of legends, a goblin chieftain standing atop his stone throne and pointing his sword angrily at a band of adventuring heroes. Around the throne, goblins warriors clutch their weapons and level them at the adventurers, while the brave heroes stand resolute and ready for battle. The sort of thing you see on fine tapestries in any great hall, an epic showdown. Of course, the reality is less glorious. The goblin chieftain is standing on crude skins atop a rock, and the weapon in his hand is a decades-old human castoff. The warriors around him are trembling in fear, and no real threat to the adventurers. As for the ultimatum, however stridently delivered from the goblin’s lips, it cannot hide the desperation of a tribal leader all out of options.

Fortunately, not every adventurer is stitched from a single thread either. Cuts is five centuries old, yet his self-awareness is in its adolescence. He is still learning what it means to be more than a living weapon, and one lesson he has fixated upon is a moral one. They are strong, these creatures are weak. And they are, after all, the real invaders. Thus, when the chief argues that it is his right to defend his home, and that they are in the wrong, Cuts does not argue. Instead, he calls his fellow heroes close and they talk amongst themselves. Sensing, perhaps, that a reprieve could be theirs, the goblins wait and watch. The shaman makes her way back to her own furs, still a bit wobbly from her treatment by Nithauk. This may be why she reveals the ring she has kept hidden til now.

Intrigued, the rogues slips nearer, sensing both the enchantment on the item and the obsessive attitude of the shaman towards it. Meanwhile, Cuts is deep in conversation with Content Not Found: pc-scir and Ezio about the right course of action at this juncture. Kane Raziel distances himself from the conversation, muttering darkly that they should simply exterminate the vermin. As always, the warlock withdraws from their moral pondering. For him, the world is clearly a simple place, where every question is cut and dried: black… and gray, bad… and worse. One might wonder why he travels with so many who hold a brighter view of the world. Wonder, but probably not ask. Kane does not seem like a man who entertains such questions gladly. His loyalty to his comrades is unquestionable, even as his moral demeanor is… highly questionable.

Eventually, a decision is reached. Depart peacefully, and bring no harm to these wretched creatures at this time. The goblins have done no harm, to either the people of Frandale or to our heroes. Never the less, they are on a quest for answers, and Scir reminds them of this. They agree, and the dragonborn addresses the chieftain on the matter of the marsh. This leads to a series of questions about this tribes history. Question by question, the chieftain reveals much of how they came to live in the caves above the brook, ten or so years ago. Along the way, they learn why the goblins dye themselves blue, and about the special favor they enjoy from the goblin gods. An odd silent exchange passes between the goblin chief and his shaman, and he bids the old female speak up on this matter. Her reluctance is obvious, but in the end she does not defy him. She reveals that she has a ring, given her by their god, Maglubiyet. The direct revelations from the god to her have guided the tribe.

Mikal can sense the mix of truth and lie in her words, and draws close to examine the ring. He can sense what Nithauk already has, both the shaman’s obsessive attitude and the enchantment on the item. It is hidden somewhat by the divine magic the shaman wields, but obvious enough once one knows what to look for. The ring has strange symbols on it, but some of them clearly have to do with water. And it is obviously not goblin-made. Mikal presses for the truth, using the Common tongue. The shaman, he well knows, is not as blindly devoted to her religion as she acts. There is worldly cunning in her, and her influence over the tribe means as much to her as her gods. Teasing bits of truth from the old crone is not easy. However, Mikal is as good at manipulating people as he is bad at manipulating cards. Eventually he learns that she found the ring while on a vision quest involving hallucinogens, in an underground pool near the tribe’s former home beneath the Tanglewood. She still clings to her story that Maglubiyet told her to lead the tribe here and they would be protected by the god, even though Mikal can sense half-truths in this.

Realizing he cannot hope to pilfer the ring, Nithauk creates a drawing of it in his journal. Mikal, meanwhile, consults with the others and they arrive at a compromise that the shaman can agree to. They will give her a replica of the ring, so the other goblins don’t know it is gone. In addition, since she is giving up the tribe’s only item of any value, she asks for something enchanted to aid the tribe. With the agreement secure, our heroes depart. One goblin insists on following them, devoted to Mikal and unwilling to separate from him. It seems the creature believes the bard’s claim:

“I am your god.”

This works well enough… until they get back to Tilburne. There is simply no way the townsfolk will accept a goblin, and Mikal knows this as well as anyone. In the end, he convinces the creature to go back and be his prophet among the other goblins.

In Tilburne, they acquire a crude replica of the ring from Welvrith, spending a full gold piece on the delicate ironmongery. Clearly, the smith is more accustomed to the crafting of weapons and tools, and the ring is a challenging task for him. With the replica in hand, they board a barge for Samurth. Some of them strip off their armor and pay their way with labor, assisting in the loading of the barge and acting as oarsmen when needed. Others refuse to do so, paying for passage instead. Some of them note that they are watched as they pass the mouth of Dogtree Brook. The same brigands they saw almost a week prior, when they walked from Karipur’s Farm back to Tilburne.

In Samurth they meet once more with Rathlaris. The old wizard is eager for news of Jalenna, and they are forced to tell him they have nothing new. However, he is pleased at their news that virtually every woodsman and hunter in the region is on the lookout now. Not to mention an entire wolf pack in the forest, led by the sympathetic druidess Arianne. They then explain the real reason for their visit, showing him Nithauk’s drawing of the ring and iron replica they’ve had crafted. As always, he is more of a sage than wizard at heart, and he gets quite wrapped up in the mystery. Eventually they drag him back from his books and convince him to lay a permanent glamour on the replica so it looks exactly like the original. He charges them for the ritual, enough at least to cover the necessary residuum. A couple hours later, they have their finished replica.

After a lengthy conversation about the next steps they plan to take, they decide to split up. Half of them will return to the goblins near Cutter Brook and make the trade for the ring. The other half will journey along the Churnwash on foot, gathering local rumors and lore. The idea is to get a better feel for the land, and the people, of Farandale. Nithauk, Ezio, and Alar head overland. Scir, Cuts, Kane, and Mikal sign up on a west-bound barge. They will meet in four or five day’s time in Tilburne. The barge departs on the day and half journey upriver, while Nithauk takes the lead on rumor gathering in Samurth.

Of key interest is a new crop of rumors about barges allegedly disappearing in the Shrieking Mire. Some expected barges are many days overdue, with tensions running high in the dale as a result. There are those who put it down to skulduggery by one merchant against another, but only the most hot-headed subscribe to this view. Some say it is the lizardmen of the mire, getting bold once more, despite how long it has been since any serious aggression was noted from them. Other point out that the mire has always been an arduous crossing, and fraught with natural hazards. Barges go missing every year, though, granted, not in so high a number all at once. Still, many argue, it is likely just the usual danger of plying the river in that region. The most intriguing rumor, and one that gets scoffed at by most all who hear it, is that the missing barges are the work of the Queen of the Shrieking Trees. Nithauk can learn nothing concrete about this legendary figure, beyond the fact that it (or she) is supposedly the ruler of the entire marsh land. The source of the legend is unknown, and most everyone claims it is foolishness.

The other rumor of some interest is that of a group of pilgrims traveling from the northeast. They were coming over the Howling Moors, traveling with a one of the rare merchant caravans to brave the western frontier. They are some weeks overdue, and will soon miss the particular festival of Erathis they were venturing here to celebrate. Little more is learned about this than a general worry that some ill has befallen the caravan. The festival, called the Feast of the Ascendant Plow, commemorates the victory of farmers over untamed wilderness. Agriculture is an important step in establishing civilization, and therefore very sacred to the goddess. Throughout the kingdom, it marks the end of the planting season. In Farandale, it is celebrated in the name of Saint Morainna of the Winter Wheat. A regional Saint, this priestess of Erathis is said to have died conjuring a much-needed harvest from beneath unexpectedly early snows in the northern lands. Saint Morainna is the patroness of many frontier communities in northwestern Veldanth, Farandale among them.

The barge makes its way upriver at a normal pace. Progress up the river is as peaceful as always. Coming east, the journey takes a little less than a day, and oarsmen are mainly present to keep the barge centered in the Churnwash. West, against the current, the trip is slower and less risky, but much harder work for the oarsmen. As night falls, braziers atop stout poles are lit so they can see the river ahead and the banks to each side. Even working against the current as they are, striking a rock or running aground in a shallow bend would damage both the barge and its wares. Such as happens when they run into an obstacle unexpectedly, right where the Tanglewood grows closest to the river. The obstacles turns out to be deliberately placed, a heavy chain anchored on both banks. The southern length grows taut and causes the barge to veer to the bank and run aground. With a shout, brigands leap from the reeds and charge aboard.

Six of them in all, armed with maces and shields. Their leader with a battle axe, and a hooded figure hidden back in the reeds, just visible by the torchlight. The battle is short and fierce. Scir takes a vicious cut from the leader, and a minor spell from the hooded figure. Cuts is dazed by another spell, and nearly staggers overboard. The mace-wielding brigands are quickly struck down, only to reveal that they are a diversion from the real attack. Four stealthy brigands pull themselves from the water onto the far side of the barge. Three of the boatmen are instantly cut down, and Kane is trapped in a weighted net. Scir charges the hooded figure, who uses a ritual to escape, whisked away by magic. Cuts and Mikal, leap to the aid of Kane, and fight the brigands to a standstill. Scir charges back with a great roar, and their courage wavers. Two leap back into the river. One is slain. The last fights a minute more and then downs a flask of poison rather than succumb to capture. All the brigands, it is noteworthy, stink of rotting fish.

Blue Goblins and Damp Mysteries
Our heroes continue delving into the caves and the mystery.

While Mikal engages in a desperate con game with the goblin chieftain and his shaman, the rest of our heroes continue exploring. Having realized that the bard is missing, their search is now more urgent. They too encounter forks in the passage. With their eyes straining down the tunnel, they do not see the stones left by Mikal to mark his trail. Or rather, they do not recognized them as different from the other stones and pebbles in the winding passages. On more than one occasion, those of their number who are knowledgeable of the natural world note that there is more moisture present in these caves than there should be. However, distracted by the missing bard and the dark unknown ahead, they ignore this fact.

Drawn to the sounds of goblin younglings, they take a left fork and creep forward. As their light spills out to reveal another cavern, they are charged. Their would-be assailants turn out to be goblin females, driven to a frenzy by the threat to their young. They fight defensively, trying not to actually harm the unarmed females. Ezio ends up a the bottom of a pile of them, protected from their fists, teeth, and fingernails by his armor. Curled up in a ball, he keeps his face and other vulnerable body parts protected. Nithauk uses his size and strength to simply lift a couple up until their heads strikes the ceiling. They slump to the ground, dazed.

Alar and Kane Raziel are meanwhile facing down some adult males who have apparently come to defend the females. The six surrendered goblins desperately try to convince their tribe mates that they should just surrender. For a while, it is touch and go, as the chaos threatens to become real bloodshed at any moment. To be sure, not all of our heroes are opposed to this. Kane is openly itching to slaughter the lot of them; irritating, blue-skinned roaches. However, Cuts and Content Not Found: pc-scir are keenly aware that these goblins have done nothing hostile. Moreover, their real purpose here is to gather clues into the mysterious flooding problem.

Meanwhile, Mikal continues to try and bluff his way out of trouble. The shaman clearly wants him to leave, or die, on more than just religious grounds. Her influence over the tribe is threatened by his games. The chieftain seems less concerned for his own position, and more for the well-being of his followers. Most of the goblins just want to survive. As a group, they are rather cowardly, and almost entirely destitute. Clearly, they exist on a diet that barely sustains them. The skins and furs they have for sleeping and sitting on are crudely fashioned. Their weapons are fashioned from refused, old broken blades or discarded farming tools. The nicest blade they have is the chieftain’s… obviously an average quality human blade that has suffered for lack of proper care until it is actually poor quality. Mikal casts about for ways to draw the dangerous negotiations out, learning what he can and stalling til the others arrive.

“I am your god.”

Having placed that particular gambit forward, he clings to it. But, it seems to have less and less play with each use. A human form for a goblin god? And their trusted shaman declares him a fraud? Never the less, the bard is a consummate gambler (ignoring how often he loses every coin he has), and sticks to his bluff. The is something he is missing, he can just feel it. Their religious certainty is too absolute to be based on mere intangible faith… and yet they are the least aggressive goblins he has ever heard of. Fervent devotion to the goblin gods, but lacking the rapacious thirst for conquest almost all goblins have? Something is wrong. He detects no illusions, no charm magics, and (incidentally) no smell of rotting fish. However, there is an aura of magic around the shaman. So, he plays on.

Back in the other cavern, the goblins are now pacified, or at least contained. Nithauk slips away to find Mikal, tired of the slow pace they have been forced to travel. The others make their way after him, herding the armed goblins, but leaving the females to their younglings. Nithaul finds their bard in the midst of some drama with the goblin chieftain, but does not realize the two are colluding. Desperate to end the standoff, the chief has offered Mikal a deal. Pretend to fight, and let the chieftain best him… and the goblins will leave him beyond the caves to “die”. Realizing a chance to escape without any lasting harm to either side, Mikal agrees. Just in time for Nithauk to loom from the shadows and seize the shaman. And once more, chaos and shouting.

Eventually, Mikal impresses on the rogue that he has a plan and Nithauk should cooperate. Once more colluding with the chief, Mikal says he can make his “bodyguard” vanish, but that it should appear to be the chieftain’s doing. The goblin points his blade at the Goliath and cries out an ad lib banishment rhyme… goblin poetry is hardly pleasant, and the impromptu composition is clumsy enough to make Mikal wince… but the other goblins buy it completely. Especially when Nithauk vanishes as if into thin air, an impressive feat for a man nearing 7 feet of height. With the situation back in hand, Mikal prepares to extricate them from the confrontation once and for all. Just then, Scir’s draconic roar sounds through the cavern. The rest of the party have arrived… much to Mikal’s chagrin.

“I am… your god?”

It isn’t going to work, the bard realizes. The goblins are going to fight, and in all likelihood it will be wholesale slaughter. The greatest warrior in the tribe would struggle to kill an ill-tempered goat in solo combat, let alone take on an adventurer fully prepared for battle. With a sigh of resignation, he watches as Cuts steps into the room and demands the surrender of the goblins. The warforged cuts an impressive figure, especially with a dragonborn to one side and a glowering warlock to the other. What Mikal knows that his comrades do not, is that the goblins will not, in the end, surrender. He has seen all they have, and it is scraps. He grew up on the streets, a destitute orphan, learning to survive by his wits and charm. All too often, he’d seen what happened when you backed a man into a place where he had nothing left to lose but his life. He’d hurl his life at you, spill it on the ground in contempt of your threats, a final effort to claw some dignity from an unforgiving world.

OOC: I am taking the liberty of making your varying efforts in the tunnels seem more coherent and logical than they appeared at the time. Mostly because, as I have stated elsewhere, your characters are smart, capable, and above all, a team. You did not survive the Anthalp Vast by accident.

A Dungeon Master's Aside (OOC)
Communication and teamwork, or failure and death

Not every encounter in the game should be solved with combat, and for seeking alternate methods I applaud you all. On the other hand, not every foe can be bluffed, tricked, or intimidated. Sometimes, you will have to avoid an encounter with stealth, or fight it out. More importantly, the number of situations that can be solved with the ingenuity of a single player, or the abilities of a single character, is rapidly diminishing. This is not a solo campaign, not even one which is very forgiving to excess solo endeavor within the larger picture. Work together, in and out of character, or we will see PC deaths sooner rather than later.

In almost every encounter you could have faced besides these specific goblinoids, Mikal’s antics would have ended in his death almost immediately, and could have severely compromised the rest of the party as well. In some other scenarios, the same has been true of Kane’s aggressive outbursts. To a lesser extent, Nithauk’s sudden ‘looming’ falls into this category in certain settings. Make sure you are not stepping on each others’ toes just for the hell of it. It is by working together and communicating effectively that you accomplished a task which kills 19 in 20 who try it. You cross the Anthalp Vast. Had you acted in the Vast the way you have acted in this current encounter, you would all be dead. Period.

I don’t wish to curtail the fun and creativity. As a DM, I thrive on players doing the unexpected, and finding ingenious uses for their character’s skills/powers/possessions. If these unexpected exploits happen in keeping with the character, so much the better. However, there are story lines and plot arcs afoot. There are encounters that will probably happen, and NPCs you will most likely meet, which will not share your DM’s amusement. They will be out to hinder/swindle/kill you. I might be laughing with you, but they are not, and ultimately I have no side but that of the story line.

Please try to find ways for your individual enjoyment of the game, and your character, to facilitate the group’s enjoyment and success.

Thank you,

Once More The Adventurer
Our heroes venture back into the wilderness in search of clues.

The trial proves to be fairly straight forward. Content Not Found: pc-scir is called to testify that the accused did, in fact, attack him and his companions on the road. The charges are simplistic, making no distinction between intent to rob, kill, or kidnap. Simply a single accusation of banditry against each man. There is carefully no mention that three of the accused were actually captured two weeks later in Tilburne itself. As no one was killed in the alleged act of banditry, the sentence is hard labor rather than death. The duration of the sentence draws some murmurs, as ten years seems high to the townsfolk. And there are those who mutter about a conflict of interest, since the man passing the sentence down owns the iron mines the men are sentenced to serve their sentence in. Nothing comes of the muttering, but it is noted by more than one of our heroes.

After securing an audience with Sir Damien Catharn, our heroes amuse themselves for the afternoon at various pursuits. Some accept the invitation to take libations at the Exchange, and make the acquaintance of the exotic Tashmia, owner and proprietress of the high-brow establishment. Others make their way back to the cheaper swill and rougher company of The Silvered Crown. Thus they pass the day and night, and arrive the following morning at Catharn Manor for their audience with Sir Damien. He proves to be as aloof a host as is a governor. His table is plentiful, but not sumptuous. They could get almost the same variety, if perhaps less quantity, at a table in the Baron of Mutton. There are a few delicacies, obviously brought over from the Exchange, but for the most part it is a utilitarian feast. Over breakfast, the knight fields their various questions and asks a few of his own.

The main item of interest is the disappearance of Jalenna, which the knight is unaware of. His concern is pedestrian level at best, as he shrugs it off in his typical aloof manner. A problem, he seems to feel, best left to his appointed constable; and most likely a straightforward case of a young girl falling afoul of bandits. One area their interests and his seem to overlap strongly is the situation with the new marshland forming along Cutter Brook, near Holtan. This present a very real threat to the wealth and self-sufficiency of land he is responsible for. Another area of overlapping interest centers around the forged arrest warrant our heroes took from the slain bandit Jorlanis. The knight informs them that the forged document has already been sent, along with a report of the matter, to his liege, Lord Sandrioc Farthane.

Eventually, Sir Damien offers our heroes a tidy sum of 50 GP each to investigate the affair of The New Mire. If they succeed in actually solving the mystery, he promises them an additional sum of 1,000 gold. Both the up-front fee and the additional reward come in the form of Letters of Marque against the knight’s account in the Exchange. He gives them two weeks to investigate the new marshland. The knight also writes them a writ of introduction to his liege, should they wish to present themselves before Lord Farthane. As the region was originally tamed by adventurers at the behest of the original scion of the Farthane family, Sir Damien is confident they will be well-received. After taking their leave of the knight, they spend some time equipping themselves at the Exchange and about town. In the course of this, Nithauk makes the acquaintance of the eccentric Falstirn at the dry-goods store, and receives some odd advice.

The following day, they set out for Holtan, and beyond that to Cutter Brook. Their wanderings lead them ever higher into the Thatchwork Hills. All along the way, they note that the brook is running clear and fast. There is no sign of obstruction or excess sediment, no indication that there is any blockage. Eventually they reach the very headwaters of the brook, a cluster of small springs. Clearly there is water in the hills, bubbling up here to flow towards the Churnwash, but still no indication of why the brook is slowly seeping through its banks to soak the land. While investigating the springs, they catch site of a goblin with blue skin. It vanishes when they rush towards it, but they eventually manage to find a cave where its tracks disappear inside. Excited, they break out a sunrod and enter.

The tunnel is low, forcing the tallest of them to duck often. At its widest, they can fit two abreast, and they never have to squeeze through any narrow areas when single file. The tunnel forks, and here the troubles begin, though they do not realize it. Mikal Slips away from them, as he seems wont to do. They proceed along the left-most passage, while the bard creeps away in the dark. With their light, they eventually find a cavern and venture in. Here, even Nithauk can stand easily. It is a tense moment of surprise when Ezio comes face-to-face with a goblin whose skin is died blue from head to toe. It has rags for clothing, and a crude short sword. The priest brandishes his holy symbol and prepares for battle. At that moment, Content Not Found: pc-scir roars, his draconic heritage lending a fearsome timbre to the sound. The goblin promptly surrenders to Ezio by dropping its blade and raising its hands above its head. Moments later, five more emerge from the dark to do the same.

Mikal moves through the darkness by feel along, following his instincts. He passes first one fork and then another, always sticking to the largest tunnel. Eventually he sees light and smells smoke. Sneaking ever closer, he find himself approaching a larger cavern. In the center of it, a fire throws dancing shadows about and reveals the cavern’s occupants. An older goblin male sits on a few crude skins. To the creature’s right, an old crone wearing the trappings of a shaman sits on a smaller collection of furs and skins. Like the elder male’s seating adornment, these are crude. To the opposite side, a couple of younger females are seated on some crude furs. Four healthy young males stand in attendance, leaning on their spears and listening to the elder goblin. They seem to be debating what exactly they should do about the mysterious roar they heard earlier. Mikal, in his typical gambler’s fashion, steps into the light and addresses them in goblin.

“I am your god.”

Return from the Wilderness
Our heroes head back into town and gather their bearings.

Holtan proves to be small and sleepy, without so much as a general store. Ezio and Cuts wander into the Patchwork Pitcher to learn what they can. Ezio spends a few copper coins and finds himself pleasantly surprise to be drinking the finest ale he’s tasted in Farandale. The tavern owner turns out to be Kymmerlie, a handsome half-elven woman of middle age. She proves to be friendly and open, but little help. Jalenna is barely known to her, other than the fact that her father is the miller in Tilburne. Nor has she heard any talk of kidnappings or fleeing young women. Despite the disappointing lack of information, Ezio enjoys the ale enough to buy a second tankard before he and Cuts rejoin the rest of the group.

It is decided that they need to head for Tilburne. The hamlet is simply too small for their provisioning needs. They are perhaps an hour along the road when they encounter an agitated group of farmers. Some are arguing, others muttering, and one is actually weeping. The farmers calm themselves somewhat as they notice the approaching adventurers, but are still clearly bothered by something. Ezio decides to ask after some details. The loudest of the group, and their erstwhile spokesman, proceeds to explain the reason for their distress. It seems that marshland on the banks of Cutter Brook is expanding and threatening the northwestern farms of Holtan. They call this marsh The New Mire, and are divided as to the cause of its recent manifestation. They know only that it was not present five years ago, and that is steadily growing.

Ezio asks a number of questions of the group, both about their problem and about the disappearance of Jalenna. The farmers know nothing of the girl, and most of them don’t even have any idea who she is. No one has seen any fleeing girls, or anyone who would be capable of kidnapping a girl. Some of the farmers do mutter about bandits, including some they say hide out under a bridge on Cutter Brook. The party recognizes these to be the bandits they killed or captured a couple weeks ago, but say nothing. As to the spreading marsh, the farmers cannot agree of the cause is natural or not. Some say it is a dark curse, while others argue that it is just extra melt-off from a couple harsh winters. The farmers also cannot agree on how to deal with it. Some are fatalistic, saying there is nothing to be done. Others insist that Sir Damien Catharn must intervene. The weeping half-elf Dendrickdoes not speak, but is loudly championed by the brash spokesman, Garren.

Ezio pledges to the farmers that they will investigate, and if possible, speak with Sir Catharn about the problem. Somewhat mollified, the farmers return to their work. Our heroes cut across farms, heading west until they find Cutter Brook. They walk along it, all the way to the bridge, without seeing any sign of obstruction. The water is running clear and fast, making is seem unlikely there is any significant obstruction up river. Never the less, there is some discussion of following the brook back to its source at some later date. Along the way, Ezio’s sharp eye finds him a handful of small gems, six in all. He pockets them, having noted that children and fishermen from Holtan have been collecting them, and that he has seen the wealthier citizens of the Dale wearing jewelry made with the pretty stones. Once they reach the road, the party makes swift progress back to Tilburne, reaching the town by nightfall.

No sooner do our heroes enter the Baron of Mutton when they are accosted by a desperately hopeful Randen, seeking news of his missing fiance. After a couple fumbled attempts by Ezio to explain things, Cuts intervenes and reassures the youth that the search continues, with some of the best trackers and woodsmen in Farandale hard at work on finding the girl. Crestfallen, but grateful, Randen waits on the party’s table. His reaction to Cuts changes dramatically, and he no longer ignores the Warforged, instead treating him like a person. His behavior is still awkward, as if he can’t figure out the proper decorum. He tends to speak slowly, and in an over-loud voice, as if addressing a simpleton or a child. Nor can he seem to grasp that Cuts neither drinks or eats. Never the less, it is a marked improvement over the way most people react, or rather, do not react to Cuts.

During dinner, the constable Garyth limps up to their table, and they fill him in on what they know. He informs them that Sir Damien Catharn has agreed to a trial date, and that Scir needs to stay in town so the Dragonborn can testify against the two bandits. When the retired ranger hears that they are unsure where to search next, he mentions a couple northern locations the girl might have gone. Splitrock Dale is home to many plants that cannot be found anywhere else in the region, and Heldast Wood has some useful herbs at its periphery. Garyth tells them Karipur is the most knowledgeable about those locations, and that they should consult the younger ranger before heading north. He also tells them of another ranger they might enlist aid from. He gives them a note, sealed in a leather scroll tube, and tells them they can search for Zasheera near Eelrock Lake. The woman has a way with birds, and might be able to offer them yet another perspective for their search.

The following day, everyone but Scir takes passage on a barge headed down river, making the journey to Karipur’s Farm swiftly. Over a pleasant lunch with Karipur and his farmhands, our heroes discuss the plan to search northward. Karipur agrees with Garyth’s idea about seeking out Zasheera, and figuratively kicks himself for not thinking of it. He fills them in on the various hazards of Splitrock Dale and the Heldast Wood, and agrees to accompany them if they can wait until his crops are planted in a few weeks. As to the matter of the marshland near Holtan, he has no insight. However, he promises that if the situation is still worsening after the harvest, he’ll then have time to look into it. Satisfied with their meeting, the party sets out overland, bound for Tilburne. Their hope is to attain an audience with Sir Catharn after the trial, warned by Garyth that it can be difficult most of the time to arrange such a meeting.

On their way back to town, hiking over the rolling hill and through the occasional copse of trees, they notice movement shadowing them on the south side of the river. The river is too wide, deep, and swift to make crossing feasible, but someone or something is definitely keeping pace with them while staying hidden by the northern edge of the Tanglewood. Ezio and Nithauk wait until the party is passing through a stand of alder, and then break off from the group. Creeping down to the bank of the Churnwash and hiding in the reeds, the pair watches for their would-be pursuers. In due course, their stealth and observation are rewarded. A small group of brigands, skilled and disciplined, are clearly scouting the movements of the party. This game of hiding and watching continues all the way along the river, to the western edge of the Tanglewood. At that point, the bandits slip away into the forest.

Back in Tilburne, the group splits up to acquaint themselves with the town. Ezio goes to the temple, where he finds Randen making a small donation and lighting a candle for the safe return of his fiance. He also encounters the temple precept, a young cleric named Hesein. After filling the priest in on the disappearance of the girl, Ezio inquires after the availability of a ritual scroll or two. He and Hesein haggle back and forth, until a suitable donation to the temple is agreed on. Ezio takes the scroll for the ritual and stashes it in his pack. His coin purse is all but empty, but the scroll will come in very handy. He then heads back to the inn to take supper and find a bed for the night.

Nithauk and Cuts wander down to the docks, where the Goliath strikes up a conversation with the woman who keeps them. Carella ends up agreeing to show him some tricks of the rope-making craft in return for stories. She is highly curious about Nithauk and his companions, since everyone knows only untamed wilderness lies west of Farandale. Thus, she wants to know where they come from and how they came to be here. There does not seem to be malice or rancor in her interest, and Nithauk agrees to her trade. Cuts, having no interest in either their conversation or the ale they drink during it, wanders off to the woodworking shop of Garyth. He finds the retired ranger smoking a pipe on his porch, and tries to engage the man in conversation. It is a long and frustrating process to impress on the man that there is value in talking with Cuts. In the end, however, the Warforged secures permission to take rejected pieces of lumber and old tools from behind the man’s shop.

The next challenge for Cuts involves getting some nail. Buying an ale for the blacksmith is challenging, and very nearly results in an altercation as Barret first ignores Cuts, and then tries to cheat him. The younger man, Randen, intervenes and smooths over the dispute before it can erupt. With ale in hand, Cuts then seeks out the blacksmith at his table near the crackling hearth. Welvrith is more than happy to supply nails to Cuts, though he first manages to drink a number of ales on the construct’s coin. He also asks many questions about Cuts’ origins, most of which the Warforged does not know the answers to. At last, he helps the now inebriated blacksmith to his smithy to get some nails, and then to his house to sleep it off. Cuts spends the rest of the night working on the unfinished bridge, much to the consternation of the town guards.

Mikal, in a fit of predictability, heads straight to the only establishment of questionable repute in the town. The Silvered Crown is full up with raucous drunken miners and boatmen, not to mention some even more shady characters. As usual, the old dwarf is alone in his corner. The mood in the tavern is rowdy, but there is underlying tension in the air. A pair of hapless bandits stand trial the next day, and it is possible they have more than a few sympathizers among the rough and tumble crowd. And probably a few who are unsympathetic to their plight as well. The room is primed for a drunken brawl. Nithauk, slipping into the tavern behind Mikal, moves his bulk through the crowd with characteristic (if improbable) stealth. Mikal takes the opposite approach, barging directly into the most high profile game in the place.

Kravv, as the game is officially known, is very old, and variations are played all over the kingdom. Mikal quickly discerns the rules and buys into the next round. He then proceeds to play in the most ridiculous and madcap fashion possible, throwing the shuriken over his shoulder and with his eyes closed. It does not prove to be lucrative, and the bard finds himself quite a bit poorer by the end of the evening. His antics do, however, disarm the tension of the crowd and lighten the mood in the tavern. In fact, within a half hour, Mikal is the toast of the room, and the center of much good-natured attention. The only exception is a trio of scowling men who keep whispering to one another conspiratorially. Nithauk decides that one of the men, the one obviously nursing some sort of injury to his chest, even looks a little familiar. Maybe. He slips up to Mikal and suggests that the bard should stay on a cot at the tavern when it closes.

With that handled, the rogue then tails the men into the night, watching them take up positions clearly meant to enable an ambush of Mikal. Nithauk disrupts their plans handily. A hurled coin draws the attention of the would-be assailants, as well as setting many of the town’s dogs to barking. Perfect cover for a surprise attack. By the time the bandit realizes the danger, there is a blade pressing against his back, and a big (big) hand around his throat. It takes almost no effort to get the man talking, and Nithauk learns their plan. Kidnap Mikal, and then force the foreign adventurers to make a trade. Give up the spell caster… who is obviously not well liked in any case… for the bard, who is obviously the more desirable companion (at least in the bandits’ estimation). All this, the man claims, is to finish the plan Jorlanis brought to them. To capture the spell caster and turn him over to some vague authority figure for the reward. The man is clearly sketchy on the details, and perhaps not too bright. Nithauk is able to glean that man and his cohorts figured to meet this mysterious authority figure “over by the Tanglewood” where the forest “runs up to the Churnwash”. Nithauk knows this to be in the vicinity of the Kyrnin Farm.

He takes a sap to the man’s head, leaving him trussed up in the shadows. The next bandit is not interrogated, merely struck unconscious where he hides, and tied up as well. The last bandit is spooked and tries to flee, only to be set upon by a half dozen dogs and two city guards. Nithauk calmly reveals himself to the guards and offers a benign smile. The fleeing bandit is the problem… he’s just a man on his way to his bed. The guards hesitate only seconds before dismissing the Goliath and focusing on the bandit. Come morning, all three men find themselves in jail beside their two comrades, ensuring that Sir Damien Catharn will have a full afternoon with the trial.

The following day, the group goes to the Silvered Crown to speak with Old Grizz. They show the dwarf the two silvered long swords and the small shield. The swords he identifies as being dwarven made, as they suspected. The process of alloying the silver and steel is tricky, and few know how to make them anymore. He tells them they are left over from something called the Shifter Wars. The shield he hesitates over, but eventually claims not to know of it. He can confirm that it is of the finest craftsmanship, and made by dwarven hands. The style is archaic, and the shield is likely more than a century old. But, if he knows anymore, he does not reveal it.

Deeper into the Tanglewood
Our heroes brave the dangerous forest.

The following morning, camp is quickly broken, and our heroes set out once more. Accompanied by Karipur and Arianne, along with her two wolves, they follow the mixed tracks of bear and goblin. Around midday, they find their quarry in a clearing a little more than a bow-shot from the brook. The bear shows signs of recently healed injuries, and is gnawing at some recently slain goblins. The party rushes to surround the creature, attempting to subdue the bear. Cuts attacks first, seizing a fist full of hide in his unyielding grip. The rest of the party quickly falls in around their construct companions, throwing nets and striking with the flats of their swords.

It takes the better part of 30 seconds, but they manage to tire the bear out and subdue it. Even as they do, Mikal approaches and warns them of approaching goblins. Sure enough, a small hunting party comes moving stealthily through the forest. The party is prepared and makes short work of the attackers, killing half of them and routing the rest. One of the archers is captured and knocked unconscious. The party leaves the goblin with Mikal, who can speak the creature’s tongue. With innate glibness and bardic training, Mikal convinces the disoriented creature that he is an ally, and that the goblin should take him to its home. Despite the goblin’s obvious craftiness, the bard accompanies it and the two forge deeper into the Tanglewood.

Nithauk trails the duo stealthily, but the rest of the party is quickly left behind. The goblin, who introduces itself as Gariktuthek, leads Mikal deeper into the woods, to the point where every hundred yards of forward progress takes more than an hour of tracking back and forth to find a way ahead. The thorns and brambles are thick, and a couple times the goblin stops for no apparent reason. When pressed, he says only that some creatures in the deep forest require an entire hunting party to kill, such as the giant spiders. At length, the bard begins to realize he needs the party closer. It takes his very best persuasive skills, but he managed to convince Gariktuthek that he needs a rest and a fire for warmth. The smoky fire provides a beacon for Alar, who swiftly leads the party towards their companion.

As the adventurers approach, they make enough noise to alert Gariktuthek, and soon enough they are forced to subdue the goblin a second time. This time, Mikal drops the pretense of friendship and interrogates the goblin directly. Kane Raziel adds tremendously to intimidation of the creature by calling a spell that makes the fire roar to unnatural life. Under questioning, Mikal learns only a little more. The goblin seems to know something about Kane, either directly or indirectly. It also reveals something about “Dark Masters”. When pressed for more, the creature suddenly succumbs to massive psychic damage, dying in front of their eyes. At length, they surmise that the goblin was marked by some sort of ritual or curse to prevent it from revealing certain secrets.

With night falling fast, the group camps around the already crackling fire, staking out double watches in case the goblin was telling the truth about big nasty critters in the deep forest. During the night, Nithauk slips away quietly to scout something he saw the previous day. He finds a towering cliff which seems to mark the eastern-most end of the Thatchwork Hills. In the forest around the base of the cliff, he finds signs of some sort of humanoid he can’t definitively identify. Just tracks and fur, and beyond his knowledge. He also finds, as he climbs the granite face, signs of sentient avians called aarakocra. These reclusive and primitive peoples are rare indeed, and he vows tom come back at some point to try and find them. Satisfied with his find, he makes his way back to the rest of the party as they are breaking camp at last.

The group spent much of the morning debating their next move. Arianne is searching the Tanglewood, and is far better suited to that task than they are. She and her wolves move through the forest easily. Karipur is searching along the Churnwash for her, knowing that stretch of hills and farmland better than anyone in the region. They are left with the desire to help in the search for Jalenna, but with no clear idea where to go next. They decide to head back towards town, restocking and perhaps learning a bit more about the lands of Farandale. Consulting the map provided by Rathlaris, they estimate the farming town of Holtan is only a day and a half away. Setting out, they make it back to Dogtree Brook by nightfall.

The next day, the leave the Tanglewood behind, and trek across the low swells of the eastern Thatchwork Hills. Soon they are among the rich terraced farmland which provides Holtan its wealth, and by nightfall they can see the hamlet ahead. Rather than arrive at night, and cause a stir. They camp one more night, discussing what they have learned and seen this far. Kane is most distressed that he has been targeted by both human bandits and goblin hunters, as this were not his first sojourn into Farandale. Or indeed, anywhere beyond Arkandia. Mikal is puzzled over the cryptic and contradictory claims of the goblin. Nithauk is preoccupied by the cliff in the woods. They share a subdued meal and deliberate late into the night on their options. At dawn, they break camp and enjoy a peaceful hike into Holtan.


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.