Ruins of Armiir

There's Something Haunting My Ankle

Another wet and cold week of travel finally brought the party to their destination. Morgil informed the party that they had reached the area of the Fenwood where the observatory was rumored to have once been. Morgil set up a hidden camp, underneath a canopy of giant, twisted tree roots and told the party he would wait here for up to a week for them.

Grimm, Valas, Ursen, Kodi, and Luthion set out to explore their surroundings. About an hour out of camp, they came upon a wide, slow river and began to follow it upstream. Over a rise they spotted a giant willow tree, quite obviously out of place, even among the giant trees of the Fenwood. Carefully watching the area for signs of movement, the scouting party waited. They saw no movement or activity, but Ursen sensed that the area surrounding the tree was very “unnatural.”
Nocticula s willow
In the morning, the entire group left and approached the willow. The willow stood upon the edge of a high cliff, overlooking the river. At the base of the cliff, partially hidden by roots, was a small cave opening. They also noticed one large set of stairs, carved into the tree, that led up to a large fissure, and two smaller sets of stairs that led to similarly small openings. The party opted to enter the large fissure.

The fissure was obviously not natural, having a solid and smooth floor, and there was a door set in the far wall. After searching for traps, Grimm opened the door to find only pitch darkness beyond. Puzzled by this, Grimm pondered why his darkvision wasn’t working. Before he could do anything else, a small bolt shot out of the darkness and stick deep into Grimm’s thick hide. With a yelp of pain he dodged to the side of the door. After a few moments of tense discussion, there were no more attacks. Asterion, tired of waiting, boldly led the way into the darkness, followed closely by the inquisitor. Valas, seeing larger and stouter folk ahead of him, trailed after.

Feeling their way through the darkness, the party discovered that the magical darkness was only small in area, and only covered the 4-way intersection immediately inside the main entrance. Beyond lay a series of hallways and doors, obviously some sort of elven tree-fort or dwelling, although quite twisted. The paladin sensed evil within the very walls of this tree, and Ursen’s sense of unease grew as he entered its stinking halls.

After many minutes of carefully exploring and checking doors, the party sprung its first trap. Valas, Mathias, and Asterion were trapped within a small chamber that quickly began to fill with water. Asterion and Mathias quickly set about trying to pry the door open from one side, while Calis, pushing people out of his way, hacked at the door from the other side, infusing his blade with corrosive magic. After almost 30 seconds of furious activity, the door finally burst under the combined assault, spewing the occupant out. The “water” was actually some sort of watery sap-like residue that left the entire party sticky and smelly.
Drow warrior
Pushing forward in their thorough exploration, the party stumbled into a drow ambush. Having long since heard the group approaching, the evil elven warriors were set to guard the barracks and kitchen area of the base. They chose their location and set upon the first to enter – Mathias. A brief battle followed. The drow chose their site well, but were unprepared for the ferocity of the party’s counterattack. Before long, all five drow lay dead.

Farther into the depths of the tree, the party came upon a wide hall that was blocked off by a massive steel portcullis, and there were very deep growls from some unseen beast beyond. Asterion and Mathias were unable to lift it. Luthion, while stepping forward to shoot a magically lit arrow down the hall, noticed an unusual pattern in the side of the hall. Examining this led to the discovery of a secret door. A side passage was found around the portcullis, and Calis, upon reaching the far end, turned to observe the direction in which the growls were coming from.
Owlbear
Without warning, a massive and twisted owlbear charged forth from its hiding place and bore down upon Calis. Calis suffered massive injuries as the beast not only savaged him, but scooped him up in its large claws and bore him off into its lair. The rest of the party rushed to Calis’ aid while Calis himself cast spell after spell into the beast. Finally, after a great struggle, the creature let go of Calis and fell to the ground dead. Heavily wounded and almost completely out of healing spells, the party decided to retreat from the tree and explore the cave.

Within the cave’s entrance, only a small and twisted tunnel led into darkness. Before long, they encountered an unusual set of roots that hung down, blocking further progress. The roots blocked the passage of all save Mathias. Curious as to what lay beyond, Mathias proceeded deeper into the depths of the tunnel. He eventually came into a small cave. Upon the floor near the far wall was a once-armored corpse, his flesh and even most of the metal of his armor having long-since rotted away. Next to his side lay a greatsword, untarnished and gleaming, even though covered in filth. The corpse’s sigil, on it’s tabard as well as the sword, was strangely familiar to the paladin, though he could not quite recall where he had seen it. Feeling that he was fulfilling the prophecy foretold by the spectre of Dertgar, Mathias grasped the sword and offered prayers to Iomedae and the spirit of the fallen warrior.

Leaving the cave, the party returned to the tree fortress and ascended a long and steep stairwell that led up several hundred feet. Eventually the party came out into a long, dark hallway. Within it were two normal doorways and one massive set of double doors. Valas, approaching the first door, set off a fire trap that singed several people, but did not do much harm. Just past the first door was a simple yet elegant bedroom, obviously set aside for a person of importance. Upon a desk were many papers, written in some sort of elvish code. A golden scimitar, studded with gems, stood upon a stand on the desk. At the far end of the room was a large four-poster bed with a footlocker in front of it.

Valas crossed the room to the footlocker immediately. The rest of the party did not wish to explore a bedchamber just yet, and left to examine the massive double doors. Valas, however, had other ideas. In trying to open the chest, he set off a poison needle trap that pricked his finger slightly. Almost immediately, Valas could feel the poison take effect, making him very light-headed and weak. He looked on, amazed, as his hand slowly began turning black and spreading slowly up his arm. He stumbled out into the hall and called for help. Ursen and Mathias were quick to identify the type of poison, but it was the inquisitor who saved the halfling’s life by administering a dose of antivenom.

After the excitement, the party opened the double doors. It led to a massive room, filled floor to ceiling with thick sheets of grey webbing. The far wall and ceiling of this room could hardly be seen. The party spread out cautiously and began to search the room. Luthion was the first to spot the creature. Whatever it was, it was very huge and it was hidden very carefully among the webs. Only Luthion’s elf-sight was able to pick out the faintly-glowing life-force around it. Almost as if it knew it had been detected, the beast gave a loud growl and charged forward with incredible speed.
The horror
When it reached the light, the party recoiled in horror before it. Its main body was that of a giant spider, easily 15 feet in diameter. It had two very large bat-like wings, and a long serpentine head extended from the front of its body. It stopped just within the edges of the thick webbing and breathed a steaming mist of corrosive vapor upon the party. Asterion was slightly wounded, but both Mathias and Calis were nearly killed. They party quickly sprung into action.

Asterion charged forward, evading the clawed swipes of the creature, hacking at the foul creature. Mathias and Calis also closed in, damaging the beast with sword and spell. Ursen enchanted Kodi’s claws and teeth, and the loyal bear charged forward to do his share. Luthion sent arrow after arrow into the thick hide of the beast. Valas, using his mystical abilities, turned invisible and tried to get closer to the beast in hopes of striking from an advantageous position, but the beast somehow sensed the halfling, and with a casual swipe of its massive claw, sent the halfling tumbling to the ground, broken and bloody.

The creature struck out again, clawing and biting at several members of the party. Calis fell to the ground unconscious after a massive claw swiped him off his feet. Finally, after a mighty blow from Mathias’ found greatsword and a massively furious assault of blade and horn from Asterion, the creature finally succumbed to its wounds and crashed to the ground, curling its legs underneath it.

Ursen and Mathias quickly set to healing both Calis and Valas, as well as doing what they could for the other injured party members. They then began to explore the rest of the complex.

Beyond the far door in the hall, they came upon another bedchamber, but no other sources of magic could be found. The party then split up into separate rooms and began to search. Within the first bedroom was found a small pouch with two gems. In the second bedchamber was found a hidden compartment under a large bear-skin rug. Within it was a dirty old sack that detected as magical. Within the large chamber, underneath a large wooden stage, was found another secret compartment. Inside were hundreds of gold pieces and a small runed stand with a small round hole in its top.

Taking the stand out from under the stage, the party set The Key within and struck it. The Key began to glow and play its music again, and a new image appeared. The scene was of a vast snowy landscape, partially obscured by heavy clouds and thick falling snow. Mountains could barely be seen looming in the background. Aiden, after several minutes of concentration, was able to break the musical code. It said “Seek the Scar of Ice.”

The party returned to Morgil’s camp, and after resting and healing, returned to the elven town of Everwell.

At the Gaming Table

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Laugh It Up, Fuzzball!

There was quite a bit of humor and joking going on during this session. It was a lot of fun having so many of the group back and in one place. It’s amazing that the party got as much done as they did.

After their trying foray into the depths of the college, the party returned to their inn to rest and recuperate. Mathias was warmly welcomed by the friendly staff and was told that a message had arrived for them while they were gone. The scroll bore the seal of the Zojon estate, and was signed by Ylsa. It said: “I hope this letter finds you in time. You are in danger. The Key is cursed. I will be sailing to Riversend to meet you aboard the vessel Dawn Star, and I should be there within a couple of days of you receiving this. Meet me at the Docks.”

The party, already being near the north docks, went down and spoke with the harbor master. Valas, sly as a fox, subtly handed over a little gold and was told that the Dawn Star would indeed be coming to the north docks, but the harbor master was unsure as to when. He said that he would send a runner up to the party’s inn when it arrived.

Discussions arose as to what the party should do. Chief among these ideas were several types of “greeting parties” involving a “well-before sunrise” group, a “sunrise” group, and an “about noon-ish” group. The party reluctantly agreed on the sunrise group.

As the group groggily made their way down to the docks in the dark hours just before dawn, they were told by the harbor master that the Dawn Star had indeed arrived in the night, but was awaiting the dawn to come to port. He then directed the group to where it was due to dock. Walking down towards the pier, the party was watchful for a possible ambush, but saw nothing but dock workers about their normal tasks. Ursen, eyes keen as a hawk, discovered a tavern near the pier and went inside to “investigate”, while Valas began sifting through crates, barrels, trash, and waste in the alley beside it.

While the dwarf was implementing his own quality control program from inside the tavern, the rest of the party spread out among the dock and waited for the Dawn Star. They did not wait long, though. The sleek vessel soon made its way into port with the rising sun and was soon safely moored. Sailors scrambled over the decks and many began starting to haul cargo up out of the hold and onto the main deck. Ylsa could be seen farther up on the decks and she was accompanied by a tall, stern-looking elven male, armed and armored.
North docks
As this was happening, Hernan Lemus, a chief constable of the city guard, was making his way down the dock. It appeared he was heading in the direction of where Mathias was standing. Before he could reach Mathias, a couple of the party noticed an owl flying out of the sky, landing upon one of the masts of the Dawn Star. Before anyone could react, the ambush was sprung.

Two of the dockworkers turned and threw knives at BCC and Calis, but caused little more than scrapes. A small bolt, fired from an unknown source, hit constable Lemus, and a second later his eyes rolled up in his head and he fell to the dock unconscious. At the same time, there was a commotion from behind a stack of crates near Asterion and Aiden, and a very large, evil-looking badger came running out, and it proceeded to attack Asterion. Asterion, with an almost negligent swipe of his mighty bastard sword, cut the evil beast in two. BCC and Mathias quickly went over to the form of the constable and checked on his condition, while Calis drew his bastard sword and set upon the two “dock workers” and quickly cut down one of them. Valas took cover in the alley, preparing to spring upon any enemy that closed in, while Ursen, hearing the sounds of combat, rushed to the door of the tavern.

Another hidden bolt shot out and struck Aiden, who also crumpled up and fell unconscious. Ursen rushed to his aid, while everyone else started heading towards Calis to help him out with the last thug, but with an impressive show of martial skill (and several mighty blows), Calis literally cut the brigand into 3 pieces.

BCC noticed the hidden archer in a second floor window of the tavern and shouted a warning. Valas and Mathias charged into the tavern and up the stairs. Mathias quickly went to the door where he knew the window led to and kicked the door in, only to find an empty room. Valas, quick as the ninja he was, used his magic to turn himself invisible and rushed into the room, triggering a tripwire trap as he did so. A small earthen pot fell from the ceiling and shattered upon the floor, showering the entire room with fire. The rest of the party on the dock saw nothing but fire and smoke pour out from the window and rushed in to help. Not seriously harmed, Valas left the inn while Mathias helped patrons out of the inn and helped quench the fire before it could do too much damage. Of the hidden archer, there was never a sign.

Aiden and constable Lemus regained consciousness while Ylsa and her elven protector joined them on the docks. “I received your message and came as soon as I could” said Ylsa, holding up a scroll. The party quickly deduced that they had all been set up, and they had a good hunch as to who was responsible.

About this time, as constable Lemus was getting statements from those in the area, a large force of city guard arrived. Lemus ordered them to different areas of the dock and took a few more to where the party was gathered. He apologized for the inconvenience, but said that he was going to have to take Ylsa into custody, as there were still charges filed against her by her adopted sister, Oliphia. The party was not happy, but followed Ylsa and the guards to the keep of the watch. Here, Ylsa was led off to the nobles’ holding facility while the party was led into another building where they gave their official statements and signed their names to it. Ylsa’s elven companion introduced himself as Luthion, an elven archer who was hired by the drow bard Xelarna to keep Ylsa safe on her voyage to Riversend. Luthion accompanied the party back to their inn.

Several tense days followed and the party staked out the Zojon estate and waited for any word as to when Ylsa’s trial would begin. They saw no sign of Oliphia or her tiefling wizard companion. On the morning of the third day of waiting, constable Lemus spoke to Mathias and told him the trial would commence at noon tomorrow. He said that an official notice would be posted upon the door of the Zojon estate, since he was required to give proper notice to Oliphia, so that she could plead her case. The party again staked out the estate grounds, but there was not a single sign of anyone on or in the estate.

Just before noon, the party was escorted from their inn to the chambers of the high magistrates. Oliphia did not show, nor did any of her agents, so the council had no other option but to restore Ylsa’s status. Furthermore, since Oliphia was wanted for questioning in regards to the assault of a senior member of the city watch, property damage at the docks, investigation into the assault upon Ylsa in Saranor, as well as questioning regarding the death of Chen Zojon, it was decided that Ylsa would be officially named head of the Zojon estate.

Ylsa was extremely grateful to the party for all of their help and agreed to sponsor the group, allowing them to join an adventurers guild. The group had to elect three officer positions and decided upon Mathias as captain, Ursen as sergeant at arms, and Calis as treasurer. There was much fun had about this, and Ursen was heard dozens of time yelling “You’re Out!” while drinking at the inn, and was even heard muttering it several times in his sleep. The party also learned that contributions to their new guild had been made, not only by the Zojon estate, but also from the college of mathematics, and from an “unnamed” senior member of the council of watchmen. Due to these charitable donations, the party was able to requisition several items of interest, primarily magical weapons and armor.

The only clue that Aiden was able to discover from his exhaustive research in the libraries of Riversend was an obscure reference to a very old drow scholar by the name of Anares, and he was last known to be residing near the elven town of Everwell, not far from the borders of Saranor. It was agreed that the party should return to Saranor, and they set sail aboard a swift merchant vessel. After two weeks at sea, the party was mightily grateful to finally see land again, and even happier to get upon it.

Luthion and Aiden went to speak with Xelarna, but they were told by a worker at her school that she had gone to Everwell. The party bought mounts and supplies and set off to enter the borders of the Fenwood. With Calis, Aiden, and Luthion all having grown up around these parts, they felt that they should not be in danger this close to the border, and they made it to Everwell within two days.
Everwell
Everwell is a quiet and rustic town, shaped out of the very trees and rocks of the countryside. Typical of elven farmers and herders, they grew no large crops and their animals all roamed free. The party decided to buy rooms at the inn, and after a warm meal, began to question locals about current happenings. Valas broke out an expensive bottle of ice wine and shared it with a couple of elven farmers who were at the inn, while Luthion and Mathias went out into the town to speak with several locals. It was quickly learned that Xelarna had been through town recently, and it was believed that she had been headed for the tower of Anares. The group stayed the night at the inn and set out for the tower the next morning.

At the gates of the tower they were met by an extremely large and foul-tempered minotaur who demanded that they go away and that “the master does not wish to be disturbed.” Aiden pleaded his case, saying that he was a student of Xelarna’s and asked that a message be taken to her. Reluctantly, the minotaur went back into the tower, and after a few minutes, came back out and escorted the party inside. They were led into a fine study, lavishly decorated and filled with books (insert Aiden’s squeal of delight here). The room was warm and comfortable, very welcome after the brisk cold of the wintery elven woods. Bowls of warm water and fresh towels were provided for the party, as well as trays of fresh fruit and goblets of fine wine.

Xelarna came to join the party after they had refreshed themselves. She asked as to the health and safety of Ylsa and was delighted to hear the party’s good news. Xelarna then warned the party to be on their best behavior in front of Anares. He used to be a very kind and patient man, but his mistreatment by other drow had “left horrible scars upon his body and soul.” Xelarna went on to explain that while Anares had been captured by the drow, they had cut off his hands. His experience had forever changed him, making him short of temper. With stern cautioning from some of the party members, the rest agreed to speak only when spoken to.

Anares soon entered the room. He was indeed an old drow and his powerful presence filled the room. Immediately it was obvious that he did indeed have no hands. Ursen buried his face into the side of Kodi’s fur, and he did not remove himself from there until the party left.

Anares stood and questioned the party about their doings and The Key. Aiden gladly struck The Key, producing the vision of the dark woods and the giant willow tree. Anares said that he had never heard of the term “Nocticula’s Willow”, but the heart of the Fenwood was the home of many giant trees. Since The Key is believed to hold the secrets to the hiding place of the Harp of Law and Lolynfrey, the only clue that Anares could offer without further study, was for the party to travel to a place once called the Verdant Conservatory. The Verdant Conservatory was the ancient home of Lolynfrey, before the Consuming Darkness came. Why the elves gave Lolynfrey to Mnesarchus is unknown, but Anares believed that the party might find clues there. The only problem is that the conservatory was in a place that is now within drow-occupied territory. Anares said that he would have an accomplished guide meet the party at their inn, and that they could talk to him about traveling deeper into the Fenwood. The party was then shown out of the tower.

Upon returning to the inn, they found that an elf was already waiting for them. He introduced himself as Morgil and that he was to be their guide. He told the party of his terms and fees, and they agreed. Morgil said he would need a day to gather his equipment and suggested that the party only take what they felt was absolutely necessary, as they would be traveling off the roads and paths, and would need to do so quickly and quietly.

The following day, Morgil led the party out and into the wilds of the Fenwood. Being still within the boundaries of elven territory, the party made good time and encountered nothing hostile. At a week out, the party’s nerves began to show. They frequently jumped at noises and woke from their slumbers with a start. On the ninth day, while Luthion and Kodi were out hunting, the party heard a strange sound, as if a child were crying not far from where the party was. Aiden and Valas went to explore. They found a very strange sight. A toad (about the size of the halfling) was sitting upon the ground crying. Next to him was a small wagon being pulled by a large tortoise. The toad saw the two and quickly jumped up and begged for help. With assurances that they would, Aiden and Valas returned to the rest of the party and told of their findings. The party agreed to help the fey creature. Toad informed the party that his crates of Ilwyn wine had been stolen by “those foul Fanaan.” He pointed northwards into the woods and said “they went that way.”
Toad
Ursen quickly found the creatures’ tracks and the group followed them to a small clearing. Within the clearing, several large bipedal badger-like creatures were sitting and drinking wine from bottles. They did not seem to notice the party. Aiden and Ursen went forward cautiously and hailed the creatures, who immediately jumped up and shouted at the party in a language nobody but Asterion understood. Asterion’s ears flattened upon his head at the vile insults the creatures were flinging, and he stode forward, past the drow and dwarf. Asterion bellowed out a response in the same language, and that seemed to provoke the creatures. They all charged the minotaur, roaring their displeasure, and as they closed into melee, great fiery swords appeared in their hands. Asterion’s great armor deflected every blow the Fanaan sent his way. He reared back and delivered a mighty blow to the first creature, but it somehow shrugged it off, unharmed. The party quickly realized they were going to have a fight on their hands.

Everyone charged forward and began to rain blows upon the creatures. The creatures set about themselves, flailing away with their fiery swords, but failing to hit a single person. Between the mighty two-handed blows of the paladin and the quick but deadly-accurate blows of the ninja, the creatures were soon all dead. The party picked up the crates of wine and returned them to Toad. He hopped up and down in excitement and thanked them profusely. As a reward, he gave the party 2 bottles of Ilwyn wine (rumored to be worth almost a thousand gold pieces each) and a small pouch of goodberries that Toad claimed would stay fresh for as long as they were in the Fenwood.

At the Gaming Table

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Old School

The party agreed to help Ylsa, but they knew not where to begin their search. The best idea came from Aiden who wished to explore the great library in Saranor to look for clues about The Key. Ylsa urged the party to be very careful – one of Oliphia’s known agents, a female tiefling wizard and her owl familiar, were still loose within Saranor.

While examing The Key, Grimm accidentally dropped it upon the table they were sitting around and it began to hum with a musical note that resonated throughout the bodies of all present. Above The Key, a misty image appeared. It was of a stairway descending down into a darkened library. A male voice spoke out “The notes are the letters. Four harmonies, then three. Twenty three letters in total.” Beautiful harp music also played, and then the image faded. Aiden sensed that something about the music was not right, but could not place a finger on exactly what. Sounding The Key again had no effect.

The next day, Aiden set off to find the Great Library of Saranor and began to look for clues pertaining to The Key. He found many clues linking The Key to an ancient bard named Mnesarchus. Mnesarchus was known throughout the world as a great scholar in the arts of mathematics, astronomy, music, and arcane science. All of the stories about him told of his great knowledge, but told little of the actual man. After studying most of the day, Aiden found out that Mnesarchus had created two powerful artifacts, the Harp of Law, and Lolynfrey, a mystical tome of elven song magic. Mnesarchus hid his artifacts and The Key was rumored to be the means to find them.

Aiden returned to the Inn of Nine Mirrors, and when with the rest of the party again, struck The Key once more. The vision and music played, but this time Aiden was able to determine what was “off” about the music. It was a code. Working frantically, taking notes with paper and quill, he quickly sketched out the musical notes and broke the code. The message read “Riversend Math Lower Stacs.” They knew where Riversend was, but were stumped by the rest of the message. Ylsa suggested that perhaps it was referring to the College of Mathematics in Riversend.

The party determined that due to the distance, it would be much easier to travel to Riversend by boat than foot. Mathias and Calis headed down to the docks while there was still light in the sky. It wasn’t too long before they found a ship that was due to set sail for Riversend in the morning. The captain had extra room on board his ship and asked for a payment of 5gp for each passenger. Calis payed the captain and he and Mathias returned to the Inn to inform the rest of the party.
Burning ships
In the morning, after breaking their fast, the party set out for the docks. Immediately, they heard the sounds of many bells being rung in the southern city, and they saw smoke rising from the area of the docks. Making their way down there, they saw that many ships had caught fire and sunk, and a large area of the docks was also still on fire. Calis noticed an owl perched on a warehouse, and it flew off upon being noticed. It was not know what the cause of the fire was, but many people claim to have heard a large explosion shortly before dawn. Of the captain and the vessel the party was supposed to have traveled with, there was no trace.

Calis, Mathias, and Valis traveled the docks to find another ship to charter, and found a small merchant vessel that was heading out to just north of Riversend, and would be leaving in a matter of hours. Calis left his amulet as collateral at the inn (as the ship was not able to accommodate his horse) and the party set sail. Their sea voyage was uneventful, and upon the second evening at sea, they reached their destination.

The port was small, and the village contained a tower barracks, an inn, a store, and a warehouse. The party stayed at the inn for the evening, and set off southward for Riversend at first light.

During their second day on the road, just before noon, they came over a wooded rise and spotted a small walled town ahead of them. As they drew nearer, a watchtower guard spotted the party and blew a horn. The party continued to approach the town and they were suddenly set upon by a large swarm of bats.

Almost immediately, they saw that these bats had glowing red eyes and elongated fangs. Mathias also sensed the taint of evil upon them.

After a brief battle, the party was able to drive off the swarm, and they were escorted into the safety of the town walls.

The small village was called Dertgar and it’s elder and leader, Lars, asked for the party’s help. Upon seeing how well they did against the swarm of bats, Lars knew that the party was brave and strong and could help save Dertgar. Lars explained that almost a week before the party arrived, a halfling thief stole a sword from the great barrow in the north. The thief was chased out of the barrows by spirits and he fled to Dertgar for safety. Upon learning what the thief had done, Lars had him thrown into a cell. Since that time, the town and surrounding farms have come under attack by not only bats, but other evils. Many folk died, and the rest fled into the safety of Dertgar, but their supplies starting running low.

Lars figures that returning the sword to the barrows might lift the curse, but nobody from the village was brave enough to try. Mathias took the sword from Lars and vowed to return it to its proper resting place, and the party immediately set out. Grimm was able to find a winding game trail and set the party on course.

After only a couple hours of travel, the party came upon the barrows. It was bitterly cold and a mist clung to the area and obscured sight. They soon found the entrance to the great mound and saw the halfling thief’s discarded shovel and pick, right where he said he left them. A small tunnel led into the depths of the hill.
The great barrow
Mathias, with the stolen sword in hand, began to crawl in, followed by Ursen. After a long dark crawl, Mathias stepped out into a large burial chamber. A large sarcophagus was against the far wall and many tapestries, vases, and other worldly possessions lay scattered about the room. A ghostly figured hovered above the floor and began to advance upon Mathias. He held up the stolen sword and proclaimed “I have come to return what was stolen”, and he placed the sword upon the sarcophagus and backed away.

The spirit spoke to Mathias, saying “You bear the blood of the strongarms, although much removed, and a shadow lies over your vision. Your ancestor once saved my life, so I will pay my debt and set you upon your path. The roots of a willow run twisted and deep. Follow them to water’s end and become complete, young strongarm.” The apparition then vanished, and a sense of peace settled upon the area.

The party left the barrow, closed the stone portal, and returned to Dertgar. Lars proclaimed the party heroes and feasted them late into the night. Dertgar was a poor village and had nothing to offer the party, but Lars thanked them all and promised a warm welcome for them any time they wished. The party set out for Riversend in the morning.

After three more days of travel, the party reached Riversend. It was even bigger than Saranor, and its most prominent feature, the Great Tower, they were able to spot from over a day away. They decided to find an inn and start their investigations in the morning.

After asking around town, they were able to get directions, not only to the Zojon estate, but also to the college of mathematics. They decided to head to the college first.

Once there, they were greeted with dark looks and mutterings, evidently armor and weapons were not allowed on campus. Mathias, ever diplomatic, gained the trust of a young female student who led him to the library and to the offices of the two deans, Liebton and Newniz.

Mathias learned that the library’s lower area, known as the “lower stacks” had been closed for a little over a week due to unexplained phenomena (floating books, scrolls, and hostile coat racks). Liebton and Newniz agreed to meet with Mathias and his friends to discuss the aid each group could offer the other. The deans agreed to let the party search the lower stacks for the information they needed if the party could stop the source of the disturbance. The party agreed, but before the deans allowed the party to descend, they felt the need to test the party, since they didn’t want to let “a gang of dullards loose among the college’s most valuable books.”
Great library
Two mathematical problems were set before the party, and with very little effort, they were able to collaborate and come up with the correct answers. Mathias was handed a key that opened the doors to the lower stacks and they were urged to use the utmost caution – the library and its contents were not to be damaged.

Unlocking the doors, the party began to descend a familiar set of stairs – the very ones they saw in The Key’s vision. The stairs opened into a dark library, lit only by a single small candle. Once the party had entered and began to look around, they were set upon by a large brass coat rack. It charged out of the darkness and slammed a heavy metal arm into B.C.C., knocking him up against a bookcase. The rest of the party quickly surrounded and set upon it, but its heavy metal structure seemed to barely be harmed by any but the strongest blows.

After a few rounds of swirling melee, B.C.C. was a short distance away, firing his crossbow at the coat rack, when he was set upon by an animated tapestry. It unfolded itself from the ceiling and wrapped itself around him, crushing him in its strong grasp. Calis was nearby and quickly set upon the monstrosity, and after a couple rounds, the tapestry lay slashed to pieces.

While the party was just delivering the final blows to the first coat rack, a second one charged from out of the darkness to the south. It smashed its way in between to large book shelves and began to pummel the party. They were already beaten and bloody from the first coat rack and the whipping frenzy of the tapestry, and doubts were beginning to fly about being able to defeat the second metal monster. Again, like the first, the creature was surrounded and hacked upon each round, but it seemed to shrug off almost all damage to it. In one mighty blow, the coat rack slammed Ursen to the ground, where he did not move, and the party feared him dead. With savage blows, the party stood over their fallen comrade, and it was the mighty blows of Mathias’ greatsword that finally felled the beast.

With many of the party beaten and bloody, and almost all of their healing abilities expended, Mathias suggested that the party withdraw and seek healing. The rest agreed and they retreated to their rooms at the inn. Between the healing abilities of Mathias, B.C.C, and Aiden, Ursen was back on his feet, though still wounded. They spent the evening tending to their wounds, and upon the morn, set out to return to the library.

Entering the lower stacks once again, they found the place deserted. They quickly spread out and began to search for clues, while Aiden looked through the tomes and scrolls for anything that might help them. With a very sharp eye, Grimm found a small hidden catch in the southern wall that revealed a secret door. Valis stepped forward and found a very cleverly hidden trap (not clever enough, it would seem) and also disarmed the very complex trigger. Three cheers went up for the ninja actually being ninja-y. The secret door slid open to reveal a dark hall and stairs leading down.

The hall eventually ended in a blank wall, but Grimm’s sharp eyes again found inconsistencies with the far wall, but no trap or trigger could be found. The party’s only option seemed to be to hack through the stone wall. Using the pick found at the barrows, Valis began to chip away at the wall. Before long, a small hole was opened. Using that as leverage, both Valis and Grimm began tearing out stones. At one point, a large section of the wall crumbled and a violent gust of brown particles shot out from the large hole, filling the hall with incredible cold. Coughing and wheezing, the party retreated back into the library to shake off the dust and try to figure out what had happened.

Pooling their knowledge, they concluded that the space beyond the stone wall had been filled with a deadly variety of brown mold, but once discharged, the area should be safe to travel.

They filed back down the hall and found a wooden door beyond the wall. Grimm searched the door but found nothing amiss, so he opened it up. Beyond lay a strange room. The floor was covered in alternating black and white tiles. In the far corner of the room was a small bench with a dusty harpsichord upon it. The harpsichord began to play music as soon as the door opened. Upon the northern wall was a plaque that read “Moving with merry measure, my questing friends, dance the course correctly to avoid painful ends.”

Upon reading the plaque out loud, a disembodied male voice began to sing in time with the music: “Across arctic snows, the lovers wind their way, from golden sunrise to the end of the day, sharing lives and souls full of virtue true, silver doves wing ahead with fond ado, beneath the silent shadow of the new moon, the lovers’ dance sadly ends too soon.” After the lyrics subsided, they began again, and repeated themselves over and over.

With a little discussion, the party thought they had the pattern figured out. Valis agreed to try his dance moves upon the checkered floor, but was repeatedly shocked and eventually retreated. Calis then tried, and despite being repeatedly shocked, he bulled his way to the far platform containing the harpsichord. Reaching the platform seemed to do little, and there was nothing of interest that he could find (other than the harpsichord that was playing by itself). B.C.C., noticing that the floor emitted an electrical charge, offered to be next to try as his aasimar heritage made him somewhat resistant to the damaging effects of electricity. With a few tries, and a few shocks, the party started to figure out the pattern of the puzzle. With only a few stumbled dance steps, B.C.C. successfully waltzed his way across the floor. The music stopped and a click was heard from the far platform. Calis and B.C.C. both noticed a small indentation, just large enough to fit an item the size of The Key’s stem into, had opened upon the harpsichord.
Harpsichord
Calling over their musical expert, Aiden, The Key was inserted into the indentation.

Again, a misty scene played out, only this time it was different. Instead of a dark stairwell, the vision showed a dark and misty forest that ended at a large, black willow tree. Again, the same beautiful harp music played, but the notes were different and more convoluted. Aiden felt he had a good grasp of the notes played, but he told the party it might take another day or two to unscramble the message.

At the Gaming Table

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Festival of Songs

With the large amount of fresh snow on the ground, the party debated about delaying their journey to Saranor. They finally agreed that they would chance the weather, and if it didn’t break after a few days, they would turn back. Fortunately for them, the weather did indeed improve. The southern coastal road was wet and muddy, but the travel was faster than overland through several feet of snow.

The party encountered very little on their trip, and only started seeing people when they entered into the farmlands of Saranor.

When Saranor was finally sighted, many of the party were overwhelmed at the sheer size of it. Strayhold would have fit easily into one of the several dozen districts within Saranor, with room to spare. Even from a distance of over a mile, the party could see thousands of people, busy with work and play.

Before entering the city, the party’s weapons were bound with yellow ribbons, tied in an intricate knot. They were told that weapon combat within the city limits was a serious crime, and they were only allowed to undo the ties in self defense. Then, with wide-eyed wonder, the party pressed their way into the crowded streets of Saranor.

The Festival of Songs was just starting to get underway, and performers, merchants, and spectators from all of the known lands were in attendance. Stalls and stages were set up in every street. Beverages and foods, as well as all types of crafts and wares, were available for purchase. The city was alive, day and night, with the sounds of merriment and music. The Festival is also noted as being a time of competition.

A legendary competition, Ogwald’s Race, announced with a blare of trumpets, that they were accepting applicants for the week’s races. Asterion, Valis, Grimm, and Calis signed up for the race.

Feral flounder

In working their way through the crowded city, the party had been unable to find an inn that had space available, even the stables were full of guests. Mathias reasoned that he might be able to secure lodgings for the party at the temple of Iomedae. He obtained directions from some of the locals and the party set off for the temple district.

Within the temple, Mathias talked pleasantly with an elderly priest while Aiden wowed the 3 people praying with his jazz hands. Unfortunately, the only available space to secure shelter that the temple could offer was floor space within a small, cold room. The priest suggested to Mathias that he could volunteer for watch duty, which would grant him access to guard barracks. Mathias thanked the priest for his time, and the party went back to Ogwald’s stage to see if their names had been chosen. They had.

Once the four party members and two human males had been identified and brought on-stage, the betting began. Asterion seemed to be a crowd favorite, and 5-to-1 odds were placed upon the halfling. The rules of the race were told to everyone, and then the race began.

Most of the racers stayed close to each other through the first half of the race – running, jumping, and climbing their way past obstacles. They also had to stop periodically to consume large quantities of beer from very large tankards. It wasn’t until the swimming portion of the race that some distance between racers started showing. Asterion was indeed ahead of everyone, but followed closely by Calis and one of the other human males. Valis, who had started off very strong, fell behind dramatically when he tried to swim the canal. After a few more drinks and obstacles, the race was over. Asterion took first place, followed by Calis, and the older of the two human males.

Bringing all of the racers back on stage, Ogwald handed awards to the top three racers. To Asterion he gave a large silver and ivory tankard that was studded with gems. To Calis and the older human he gave them each a large silver medallion. All racers were then invited to Ogwald’s tavern, the Feral Flounder, where there was food and drink aplenty (free for the racers).

Once inside the Feral Flounder, the party began to enjoy themselves, eating good quantities of food and helping themselves to some of the finest wines and brews they had tasted yet. There were also several games of competition going on in the tavern.

Xelarna, a beautiful female drow bard, was challenging people to a song blade duel. Un, a very large half-orc (and bouncer for the Feral Flounder), was arm wrestling for money. Emerson, a small and wiry gnome, was taking challengers for a game of drunken daggers.

While many of the party engaged in various competitions, Mathias set about to weave a fine story of his bravery and exploits, quickly gaining the attention of several of the younger barmaids. With Mathias’ charming ways, the lasses were soon moon-eyed and hanging on his every word.

Aiden, seeing a lovely drow maiden (and a bard, no less), agreed to challenge Xelarna to her song blade duel, even though he knew not the rules. With little instruction, they began. Aiden felt he did not do too well, but Xelarna declared him a talented individual and told the judges to pay him. Xelarna then pulled Aiden aside, impressed with his skills and charm. She also felt that Aiden’s use of the “white dance” was appropriately timed, shedding humor amongst the patrons. She confided in Aiden that she had been looking for a pupil for some time and offered to teach Aiden the ways of the song blade. Aiden graciously accepted and as an act of faith, Xelarna gifted to Aiden a song blade. With vows to come to Xelarna for training when possible, Aiden accepted the gift.

When the party had had their fill of food, drink, and fun, Ogwald had a stable boy show the party to their rooms at the Inn of Nine Mirrors (free of charge for the winner of the race and his friends). The streets were mostly dark, but lamp-lit every so often. Merriment still echoed throughout the city, but mainly from large squares and common rooms.

When the party reached the courtyard of the inn, they heard the sound of a woman crying out and rapid footsteps approaching. A young woman with dark red hair ran around the corner of the wall, into the courtyard of the inn, and ran right into Grimm. She was frantic with fright and was wounded. She had a knife sticking out of her back and was covered in blood. Before she lost consciousness, she said pressed a small, silk-wrapped bundle into his hands and said “…you must keep the key safe!”

Closely on her heels came four rough-looking individuals. Two human males, armed and armored, a dwarf in heavy chain wielding a massive two-handed warhammer, and an evil-looking woman dressed in black leathers with a dagger in each hand. “There is our little bird.” she said, “We’ll be taking her off your hands, now. Mother’s orders.” Mathias sensed evil rolling off of these ruffians in strong waves.

Mathias stepped to the injured woman, carefully withdrew the knife from her back, and prayed to Iomedae to heal her. Her wound began to close. Grimm helped lower her to the ground gently. While the rest of the party began trying to negotiate with the dark-clothed woman and her henchmen, Calis stepped forward and cast a spell upon her and the dwarf. The spell had no effect on either person, but it did draw attention to Calis’ abilities. With a cry of “Wizard! Get him!” the two human males charged forward and began to rain blows upon Calis.

The melee was short and brutal, and within seconds, the only ruffian standing was the dwarf who threw down his hammer and cried “Yield!” The party reluctantly refrained from killing him and started questioning him as to what was going on and why they were after the young woman. The dwarf grabbed a small black pouch hanging from around his neck and broke the leather cord it was tied to,…and he disappeared. With astonishment, the party tried to search about for the dwarf, thinking he may have only become invisible, but the search proved fruitless.

Mathias, going back to the injured woman, used his knowledge of healing to examine her and found her wound to be poisoned. Valis offered his expertise on such matters and was able to determine the type of poison used. Due to the great healing efforts, the young woman awoke and was well. She was still frightened, but Mathias was able to convince her to join them inside. She agreed and told them she had something to tell them in private.

After being shown their “winner’s” rooms and private dining room, the young woman spoke. She introduced herself as Ylsa Zojon, a minor noble from Riversend. The silk-wrapped bundle she gave to Grimm was actually a magical golden tuning fork, known only as “The Key.”

Ylsa told the party that her family was long-known for their knowledge of science. They were all learned in mathematics, astronomy, music, and arcane science. This knowledge had been handed down from generation to generation, and was said to precede the Consuming Darkness.

Ylsa was an only-child, raised by her father, Chen Zojon. When Ylsa was still very young, Chen took in Oliphia, a young girl few years older than Ylsa, whose parents had been killed by a barbarian raid in a small village near Ironwall. The girl had been taken in by a merchant who then turned her in to an orphanage in Riversend, where Chen found her. Chen’s library was near to the orphanage and he would often break from his studies and teachings to rest in his gardens and watch the children play. He would also, from time to time, instruct the children in reading and writing. The young orphan girl was already a smart child and already knew her letters. It was not long before Chen legally adopted her.

Oliphia and Ylsa quickly became friends, and both studied and learned under Chen. However, Oliphia’s interests in Chen began to change, as well as his feelings towards Oliphia. Ylsa began to fear that Oliphia was manipulating her father, using her body to gain what she wanted. As the years passed, Oliphia’s treatment of Chen become crueler and crueler, and she would often humiliate Ylsa’s father in public. The tragedy was that Chen seemed to not be able to help himself. His passion for Oliphia seemed to go beyond reason. Oliphia also began to take on other lovers, members of Chen’s household.

One night, while Oliphia was with one of her other lovers, Ylsa overheard them talk about killing Chen and Ylsa, and taking over the estates themselves. The conspirators also talked about taking “The Key” and finding the treasure themselves. Ylsa went straight to her father and told him what she knew and feared, but he would not listen. His love would never do him harm, he said. He scolded Ylsa for being childish and overly dramatic, and said that everything was fine. In tears, Ylsa left her father’s study, but not before pocketing The Key on her way out.

Her father was dead the next morning, having died in his sleep. To the horror of Ylsa, her father had signed a will naming Oliphia sole heir to his estates. Ylsa fled, fearing for her life, knowing that Oliphia would soon figure out that she had taken The Key. She chartered passage aboard the first ship she could find out of Riversend, and that is how she wound up in Saranor, six months ago.

Ylsa doesn’t know much about The Key – what it is or what it does – but her father held it in great esteem, saying often that their family was blessed with keeping its secrets.

Ylsa felt that she had eluded Oliphia and that she was safe, until tonight, when she was chased by the four brigands (the ones the party defeated).

In tears after relating her story, she pleaded with the party to help her restore her family’s honor by either finding the secrets of The Key or helping restore the Zojon estates back to Ylsa and out of the hands of Oliphia.

At the Gaming Table

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Mine!

With no other choice other than to brave the evil waters, the group decided to investigate the statues upon the platform.

Mathias threw out a rope and grapple and Calis, Grimm, and Valis climbed out. They hesitantly passed through the spray of water, holding their breath, but other than being extremely cold, there did not seem to be any immediate effects.
Halfling throw
Using magical light, Calis discovered a large magical stone laying at the bottom of a narrow but deep pool in the center of the platform. Valis, brave and valiant, tied a rope around his waist and dove into the frigid, icy waters and retrieved the stone. The party then quickly traveled back to the entrance of the mine.

Once outside, the party discovered that it had snowed again, and all the land was covered in a foot of new powder. They set out to return to Strayhold.

After the first day of travel, Valis began to show the signs of illness. Perhaps the evil waters had infected him after all.

The new snow upon the land delayed their arrival to Strayhold by a couple of days, but they encountered no other hazards. Valis was extremely sick and barely conscious by the time they arrived at the Stumble Inn. After a couple of days of hot food and bed rest, though, he improved dramatically, and was soon fit for travel.

During that time, the party was informed by Carbad that a large half-orc and his men had been by a couple days prior, inquiring about the party, commenting only that “they are overdue.” Obviously the Mage of Strayhold had sent his men for the party.

The party began to discuss options for destroying the evil stone they found. The most obvious solution was to hand it over to the Mage. Mathias, however, was dead-set against that idea, and informed the party that he would set off for the Great City of Saranor by himself if necessary, to hand the artifact over to his church. Calis debated with Mathias, stating that the law required them to hand over the stone to the nearest official, but Mathias did not want anything to do with the evil Mage. The rest of the group remained relatively wishy-washy and went along with whatever was suggested.

Valis and Calis, being the richest members of the party, set out to shop for supplies for their trip to Saranor. After purchasing a couple of weeks worth of food and feed, they were confronted in the marketplace by the Mage’s half-orc armsman. “You have been summoned” he told Calis, then turned and walked away. Calis returned to the Stumble Inn, reported the happenings to the rest of the party, and with a heavy sigh, set off for the Mage’s Tower.
Evil tower
After passing through the nightmarish groves that surrounded the tower, Calis was shown inside and into the presence of the Mage himself. Calis quickly learned that not only did the Mage already know of the party’s findings, but he charged Calis with obtaining the stone and that his lieutenant would pick it up from Calis at the Stumble Inn that evening. With another sigh, Calis returned to the Stumble Inn.

Mathias, upon learning the Mage’s interest in the stone, set out to the Tower to confront the Mage and find out his intentions regarding the stone. Mathias, however, was unable to enter the unholy grove, and he wisely halted just outside its boundary, sensing several sources of evil that remained out of sight. He patiently waited.

It was not long until a bent old man in black robes tottered out to him. The old man made not a sound, but simply held his hand out towards Mathias. Mathias demanded to see the Mage and said that he would not relinquish the stone until he had the Mage’s word that he would destroy it. The old man turned and left as silently as he came. Mathias again patiently waited.

Calis went to help Mathias, and just as he neared the gates of the Tower, the Mage’s lieutenant and his squad of armsmen arrived. Mathias demanded to see the Mage and hear him give his word. The lieutenant, with barely restrained amusement, said that would not happen. He said that the party could freely surrender the stone or suffer the consequences, at which point he handed Calis a sealed letter. Mathias again demanded to see the Mage. The lieutenant turned and walked back into the grounds saying “…suit yourself.” Calis sighed yet again.

Calis and Mathias debated long the points of tower law versus the laws of the land, as well as the differences between good and evil, and even about the degeneration of the kingdoms. A couple hours later, the old man came silently again to the gates. This time, exasperated at not having his demands heard by the lord of the region, Mathias gave in and left the stone with the old man and marched back to the Stumble Inn.

Before Calis and Mathias could reach the doors of the inn, a great shadow passed before the blood red moon and a piercing cry echoed throughout Strayhold. The barely-glimpsed shadow was enormous, and its cry spread fear everywhere. It appeared to have flown into the grounds surrounding the Tower of the Mage. Grimm, having retired early, was awoken with a start and came down to the common room just as Calis and Mathias entered.

Opening the sealed letter, Calis saw that it was a note to a local money changer for the sum of 1,000 gold pieces.

At dawn, after retrieving their money, the party happily set out for the coastal city of Saranor, and hopefully greener pastures.

At the Gaming Table

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Eye of Blood (Part II)

Passing through the dining area, recently the site of an ambush sprung by kobolds, the party gathered around a well-made but locked door. Valas, claiming expertise in such areas, searched the door for traps and then tried to pick the lock. However, he quickly learned that without lock picks, the process was very difficult. When his shortswords were unable to fit within the lock, Asterion and Mathias wrenched the door open with a crowbar.

Beyond the door was a long hall, obviously used for storage, lined with rotted sacks and crates of food. The party passed through the hall and entered the kitchen beyond. Calis and Ursen stayed within the hall to look for any valuables. Within the kitchen were a scattering of old pots and pans, three cold and drafty fire-pits, and two wooden doors on the far wall. Grimm and Valas listened to and searched the doorways for traps. The doors appeared safe, but a slight clanking, as of chains, could be heard beyond.

At this point, a large rotted sack within the storage hallway burst apart and two giant centipedes rushed to attack the intruders in their home. The centipedes, while large and vicious-looking, failed to bite, and were cut down in short order, due primarily to the savage ferocity of Kodi’s teeth and claws, as well as Mathias’ sword skills (who had rushed into the hall).

After a brief discussion, Mathias volunteered to lead the way beyond the doors in the kitchen. The left-most door led into a small, cold, stone room that once must have been used to store meats. Hooked chains hung from beams across the ceiling, many of them having rotted and dried husks of meat still upon them. Crates and boxes, also rotted with age, were stacked haphazardly throughout the room. Supported from a chain against the far wall was a bound drow male, unconscious and naked. His body was covered with bruises and welts, but he was still alive. Calis recognized the drow as Aiden’eth, a bard of some skill that he had known from Strayhold. The drow was cut free and carried out into the kitchen and laid upon a table, where Ursen began treating his wounds.

Mathias, after getting the “go-ahead” from the traps “expert”, Valas, entered the second room, only to trigger a small tripwire. As with the cart room previously encountered, another thunderstone was triggered, sending a peal of thunder rumbling through the mine. Valas and Grimm, right next to the stone’s location, were struck deaf and left very dizzy and disoriented. Waking suddenly due to the explosion, Aiden’eth sprung agilely from the table and backed into a corner, wildly looking about, trying to get his bearings. Calis stepped forward and quickly calmed the nervous drow, and before long had introduced everyone. Calis also graciously passed along a spare set of clothing, as well as a magical dagger that had been procured from one of the kobolds. Aiden’eth offered to accompany the party and lend his prodigious breadth of knowledge for their benefit.

Continuing down the main mineshaft, the party eventually came out into a very large ore room. The first and most noticeable feature was a worked stone wall at the far side of the cavern. The wall slightly curved away towards the ceiling and the quality of its craftsmanship had never been seen before by any in the group. A large hole in this wall had been dug out, and the space beyond opened into dark nothingness. Mathias and Ursen stepped up to the hole and peered through, but could not see a floor or ceiling beyond – obviously a very vast space lay beyond. Leading out from the ore room were six smaller mining tunnels. The room appeared to have been recently used and by many creatures – the floor was covered, wall to wall, with criss-crossing tracks. The party had little time to ponder their surroundings when they were set upon by yet another ambush.

Arrows flew out of the darkness, striking a few members of the party, but not doing any serious harm. Immediately after, there were war-cries from a dozen throats, and kobolds began to pour out from all of the smaller mining tunnels. These kobolds were quite different from the others encountered – they wore tattered, ragged clothing and were covered with savage-looking war paints. They wielded short spears and fearlessly charged the group, closing to melee on all sides.
Techno ninja
Ursen and Kodi fought against two of the beasts, Grimm and Calis engaged another two, Valas bravely faced off against two by himself (as did Asterion), and the noble Mathias engaged three! The drow bard, Aiden’eth, situated himself in the middle of the room and aided the party, inspiring them to greater deeds with his skillful direction.

After several moments of intense fighting, the party eventually managed to defeat all of the kobolds. During the fight, however, a glowing battleaxe had materialized over the head of Aiden’eth and slashed at the unsuspecting drow, dropping him to the ground with a vicious cut. Mathias, having just dispatched the third kobold facing him, saw a large orc farther down the tunnel and moved to engage. With a cry to Iomedae, Mathias smote the orc with holy ferocity, but the orc only laughed and returned an equally savage blow that nearly killed the paladin.
Orc cleric
Ursen, seeing Aiden’eth fall to the ground, moved quickly to shield the drow from further harm with his body while administering first aid. Calis quickly moved close to Mathias’ position, and with an expertly-delivered whip strike, tripped up the foul orc, sending him crashing to the ground. With another cry to Iomedae, Mathias reversed the grip upon his greatsword and drove it clean through the body of the orc, slaying it. Breathing heavily, the party fell back into the ore room and began to dress their wounds.

After a brief discussion of what to do next, it was decided to briefly explore the mining tunnels. Several kobold living quarters were found, as well as a small furnished room (which contained the scattered belongings of Aiden’eth). There were no signs of any other inhabitants, so the party began investigating the hole in the ore room wall.

Tying together two long strands of rope, Mathias was lowered into the darkness. After descending just over twoooo hundred feet (sorry, Asterion was dictating there), he reached solid ground. Mathias found himself on a wide walkway next to a vast underground waterway. After exploring the tunnel in both directions, it was deemed safe and the rest of the party climbed down the ropes. Another few moments were spent in discussion, and the group decided to head upstream, intent on finding the source of the corruption in the water.

After an hour of travel through the vast underground tunnel, a break in the terrain was finally spotted – a high, arcing stone bridge that passed over the water into darkness. Valas bravely went first, testing the stability of the bridge, and was soon followed by the rest of the party. Upon reaching the far side of the waterway, the party began a heated discussion about which direction to go – upstream as they had been going, or back downstream. With some reluctance, they agreed to continue upstream.

Before long, they came upon the end of the tunnel. There was an opening where the water flowed through, but it was blocked by large vertical bars. The most interesting feature here, though, was a very large fountain containing several statues of various heights that spouted water in all directions. Mathias sensed great evil emanating from the fountain, and both Calis and Ursen sensed great magic as well. This definitely seemed like the source of the terrible plague that was infecting the waters of the land. The only problem was how to stop it. The spouting waters meant that anyone approaching the statues would be drenched in the evil, enchanted waters, possibly becoming afflicted with the plague. The party sat and began to discuss their options…(to be continued).

At the Gaming Table

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Eye of Blood (Part I)

With the recently rescued Lukan in tow, the party swiftly made their way back to Strayhold. Upon entering the quiet and dark market, the group noticed several figures watching them from a distance, but only Asterion recognized them as the Mage’s men. There were a few tense moments as the party passed by, but no words were spoken or actions taken, the men simply watched the party pass.
Eye of blood
Upon entering the Stumble Inn, Lukan was led into Marcaeus’ room. Marcaeus was extremely grateful, and despite his wounds, got up from his bed and embraced his son. Lukan was still very unresponsive and it was feared that his mind may have been damaged in the shape-changing process. The party withdrew into the common room and discussed their options shortly before retiring for the evening.

In the morning, the group again met in the common room to discuss what their future plans would be. Two figures sitting at a table near the fire drew special notice – a tall, muscular human in mail armor covered with a tabard bearing the crest of Iomedae, and the other a thin, wiry human dressed in dark, well-made clothing. These two were Mathias and Valas. Ursen, recognizing the symbol of Iomedae, approached Mathias and asked for another healer’s opinion regarding Lukan’s condition. The two of them left to examine Lukan.

Later, the party grudgingly went to seek out the Mage’s men, this time accompanied by their new friends. Upon reaching the market, they noticed a commotion underway on the far southern edge of the market. Making their way through the growing crowd, the source of the disturbance became apparent – a rickety cart and 5 bedraggled and sick-looking humans were being denied entry into Strayhold by an ogre guard. Whispers of “the plague” began to circulate through the crowd.

Ursen and Mathias pressed forward and began to examine the humans. Mathias offered food, water, and what coin he could spare. It was not much, but it was gratefully accepted. The humans claimed to have been part of a farmstead 3 days travel to the east, and said that sickness and death were beginning to sweep through the farmlands.

Deciding that helping the farmsteads to the east was the more immediate concern, the party gathered up their belongings, bought supplies, and headed of the east. Calis urged the party to travel with greater speed, noting that the next couple of nights were known as “The Eye of Blood”, an infamous alignment of the red and black moons, said to aid in the castings of evil magic. Calis suggested that if the plague was being unleashed by some type of sorcery (as was done the year before in Strayhold), these two nights of the Eye of Blood would be conducive to such casting.

After pressing onward into the evening, the party finally stopped to camp. No sooner had they stopped when it began to snow. Calis set up a large tent, and once a guard duty was decided upon, they went to sleep. The night had almost completely passed when it finally stopped snowing. Ursen, walking a route around the campsite with Kodi, noticing the sudden break in the weather, shuddered as he saw the giant red “eye” of the moons looking down upon them through an opening in the clouds. At this point, with a low-pitched wet ripping noise, several rotting figures broke through the soil and rose up around the camp site.
Zombie
Ursen gave a cry of alarm and went into action. He shouldered his crossbow Irontalon and loosed a shot, but it unfortunately went wide. He also ordered Kodi to attack, but the cub’s swipes and bite did not find a mark. The two closest zombies moved to attack, one upon Kodi and the other, smelling fresh meat, entered the tent with the just-awakened party. Kodi received a heavy blow, but did not seem too hurt, but Calis received a staggering blow, nearly succumbing to unconsciousness.

After shaking off their initial surprise, the party eventually made quick work of the remaining zombies. While the rest of the group secured their gear, Mathias said prayers over the corpses of the zombies, hoping to bring rest to the souls of the departed. The party also noticed that the path they had been following was now covered with almost a foot of fresh snow. This snow, fortunately for them, began to melt almost immediately after sunrise, and by noon was limited to small pockets.

Just after noon, the party came upon the edges of a farm. After exploring the grounds and the farmhouse, they found only dead bodies of both people and livestock. Fearing that the source of the plague was contained within the water supply of the region, they learned that the water was flowing out of the hills to the northeast.

Upon reaching the foothills, the party noticed a large carved figure, weather-worn and bird-shaped. This was hopefully the marking of the Raven Mine that they had heard of in town. The party pressed on, trying to find the entrance before nightfall.

A couple hours before sunset, the party did indeed find the entrance on the far eastern side of a large bowl-shaped valley, filled with water. The entrance to the mine appeared to have once been boarded up, but many of the boards had been removed. As the group drew closer, Mathias began to sense the presence of strong evil. With the aid of Ursen’s magic, the group noticed a large symbol carved into the upper support beam at the entrance to the mine, a symbol of evil. Convinced that they had found the right place, the party drew and readied their weapons and ventured within.

Following the main shaft downwards, the group soon came into a large chamber. Upon the walls, written in blood, long dried, were primitive writings of doom and death in the draconic language. Dried blood was evident upon the ground and upon two overturned mining carts. The party continued onward, but not before Valas triggered a small tripwire. There was a thunderous explosion behind the party, lifting one of the heavy mining carts and blasting it across the chamber. The echoes of the blast could be heard rumbling through the mine.

A short ways further down, there was a large set of double doors that led off of the main shaft. Listening at the doors, Valas detected nothing and felt that the doors were not trapped. Peeking in, he saw only darkness and called to have a light brought forward. It was at this point that he came under fire from the room’s forewarned occupants. Crossbow bolts rained around him, and two found their mark.

With a mighty cry to Iomedae, Mathias burst into the room and with a mighty cleave of his greatsword, slew two of the small reptilian creatures. The rest of the party was quick to follow and they made short work of the kobolds.

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Night of Blood

The Night of Blood is a time of great upheaval in the world of magic. The Night of Blood is said to be very auspicious for summoning magic and making pacts with otherworldly creatures, or so the tales say. Doomsayers line the streets and alleys of Strayhold, especially within the confines of Mystic’s Hollow, and tell all that will listen that their doom awaits them should they stray out of doors upon these unholy nights. Most laugh and scoff at these so-called prophets, but whether through belief or sheer coincidence, there are very few who actually walk the streets during these nights. It is upon the fullest night of the Blood Moon that our tale takes place…
Blood moon
It had been an unseasonably hot day, followed by a rapid chill upon sunset. The party found itself, as usual, sitting in front of the fire in the common room of the Stumble Inn. Having grown bored of their mundane tasks, the party began discussing plans more worthy of their adventuresome natures. It was at this point that the front door burst open, letting in a chill wind. Clutching the door frame was the innkeeper’s lost friend, Marcaeus, but all was not well. Marcaeus was covered with dozens of small puncture wounds and his leg was visibly broken. He was dirty and blood-stained, and while trying to enter the inn, he collapsed face-first onto the floor and did not stir.

Ursen was the first to respond, rushing to Marcaeus’ side and examining his wounds. Marcaeus’ wounds were severe, but not fatal, and would require quite a bit of time to heal. Asterion and Calis, meanwhile, had prepared themselves for danger, while Grimm went out to the front of the inn to see if there was trouble. Seeing no signs of a struggle or any other foul play, other than Marcaeus’ trail of blood leading southward, the group converged around the wounded man.

The innkeep, Carbad, instructed the group to carry Marcaeus into a nearby bedroom, and asked Ursen to use whatever healing ability he had to save his friend. With a prayer to his deity, Ursen used his magical abilities of healing, restoring a small semblance of life back to Marcaeus’ pale form. With a gasp, the man awoke, terror etched upon his face. “They’ve taken him!”, he cried, “They’ve taken Luken!”

With a few questions as to the location of the attack, the party agreed to help Marcaeus find his missing son. Gathering their belongings, and a small sack of food provided by Carbad, the party left the confines of Strayhold. Upon leaving the shadows of the Shattered Step, Ursen blew his silent whistle and a very enthusiastic and energetic Kodi soon joined the group. With little direction, Ursen instructed Kodi to track, and they followed the bloody trail south.

After a couple of hours of traveling by the light of the red moon, Car’ithil, the group came upon the scene of a small but bloody battle. There were no bodies, but obvious scuffings in the dirt on the trail, as well as copious amounts of blood, assured the party that this must have been the sight of the attack that Marcaeus spoke of. One large trail, as if something heavy were drug, led up a small forested hill to the west of the road. Asterion bravely led the way up the slope, his mighty sword and shield at the ready.

At the top of the slope, the light of the moon showed a small clearing within which rested the ancient ruins of a long-crumbled manor. Grass and weeds had overgrown most, and little was recognizable. The party spread out to search the grounds.

Grimm, following the rocky outline of what was once a low wall, came upon a papery mass molded into the corner of two rocks. Prodding it with his temple sword, he disturbed and agitated a large bee the size of his head, which proceeded to fly straight for him. Ursen saw the beast set upon his comrade and quickly loosed a shaft from his mighty crossbow, Irontalon, but his shot flew wide. Grimm was able to strike the creature, but only delivered a glancing blow. Asterion, his blood racing at the sound of combat, charged over to the scene and delivered a crushing blow that splattered the large bee over both himself and Grimm.

At the same time that Grimm had prodded the small hive, Calis thought he had found signs of a trail. Upon closer inspection, the ground beneath his feet gave way and he fell into darkness with barely an “Ulp…” to indicate his discovery. His fall was cushioned by a large mound of soft earth, and he was unharmed. Upon looking around him, Calis found himself in a large root cellar that extended beyond his range of vision underground.

After cleaning themselves off, the party lowered themselves into the cellar, joining Calis, and began to look around. There was a discernable trail leading through a root-choked hallway, that was covered in sticky-looking webbing. It was voted that Grimm, being the sneakiest, should lead the party into the darkness. Grimm cautiously advanced into the tunnel, cutting away at the cobwebs with his sword.

While keeping his eyes cast upwards, he did not notice the trapdoor spider that emerged in front of him. It was very large, hairy, and vicious-looking, and it surged forward with incredible speed and bit him. Almost immediately, Grimm felt the woozy effects of poison coursing through his system. The rest of the party could not help, being stuck single file in a narrow hall, they waited for the half-orc to dispatch this new foe. Weakened from poison and wounds, the monk tumbled back away from the spider and back into the cellar, seeking aid from the healer. Asterion stepped forward, and again with one mighty chop, killed the foul critter. It flopped over on its back, its legs curled up and twitched, and a foul green ooze slowly seeped out of it.

Pressing forward, the party found and followed a small rough-hewn passageway that led steeply down into the earth. The tunnel descended several hundred feet before emptying out into a large partly-natural cavern of some considerable size. Before all of the party had made it to the cavern, they found themselves surrounded by a dozen or more small, 2-foot high black humanoids with no discernable features, other than large orb-like eyes, which were also pitch-black. The humanoids did not attack, but herded the party out into the cavern, where by the light of Calis’ spell and a large bonfire, they were able to see more clearly.

Upon a spit over the bonfire was the roasted husk of a large animal, probably a pack horse of Marcaeus’. In front of the fire was a small raised dais, upon which were two interesting figures. These two were both pitch-black and as featureless as the other creatures, but one was dressed very elaborately in a jeweled and feathered headdress, while the other was twice as tall as any other, and wore a large amulet about its neck. It was towards these two figures the party was led.

After an attempt at communication, it was apparent that the small figures did not speak any language known to the party. Even more disturbing was the fact that all of the smaller creatures, with the exception of “the two”, all spoke as one – at the same time, with the same voice and inflection. Grimm and Asterion recognized some similar words that translated in both Goblin and Draconic, but very loosely. The creatures seemed friendly enough, and even seemed to swarm around Asterion, timidly approaching him and touching his legs. While this was happening, Calis cast a spell to locate any sources of magic and noticed that the amulet the larger creature wore was indeed magical. Reaching out towards the amulet, Calis was immediately greeted with a loud hissing from the swarm of small creatures, who had lowered their spears threateningly.

At an impasse in negotiations, and with no other ideas presently available, Calis decided to take the initiative. He began to cast Color Spray in an attempt to stun the creatures long enough to grab the amulet and escape. The “shamaness”, recognizing Calis’ spell, sent forth her own magic and dispelled it with apparent ease. At this point, sensing their leaders were under assault, the small creatures began a piercing ululating cry that echoed among the cavern. No sooner had everyone turned to see what the commotion was, when the area around the party was filled with sticky strands of webbing, encasing several of the party members, as well as a dozen of the small creatures, holding them fast.

Ursen tried with all his might, but was unable to break free from the sticky webs. Noticing that Kodi was almost web-free, he ordered Kodi to guard the other party members. Chaos ensued, but still the small creatures did not press their advantage and attack the helpless party members. This was mainly due to the larger creature, who stood still between the party and the swarm of other creatures with his arms held out, crying out in the strange tongue of theirs.

At this point, the party noticed that the shamaness was no longer in sight, whether through magic or simply due to her small stature and inky coloring was unsure. Deciding to find out where the shamaness had fled to, the party began exploring the vast cavern. Upon the far side was a small doorway leading into a very small but tidy room. Its sole occupant, the corpse of a halfling, lay slumped over a desk. Jars of various fluids and unknown “parts” floating within lined vast shelves around the entire room. Finding nothing magical and nothing to identify the corpse, the party proceeded back to the entrance of the cavern.

Calis, having had enough of these strange creatures, and fed up with the previous failed attempts at diplomacy, immediately snatched the amulet from around the neck of the larger creature. Upon doing so, the figure began to morph, eventually turning into a young man, who stared around him in shock. This was Luken, or so the party assumed. Tucking the amulet into his pack, Calis grabbed the arm of Luken and the party turned to exit the cavern, but were met with a shrill cry behind them.

Turning, they found the shamaness once again upon the dais, shielded by several of her servants. She once again repeated loudly a single word that the party was able to interpret as “Forbidden!”, and to emphasize her point, she pointed to Calis. Deciding to make a break for it, Grimm tried to tumble past the guards at the entrance to the cavern, but was stopped short by the piercing thrusts of many small spears. Weak from injuries and poison, Grimm backed off. Asterion, once again enraged that his friends were under attack, prepared to charge those who had just wounded Grimm, but he was felled by a spell from the shamaness. Asterion, with a loud crash, fell to the ground, snoring.

With a few muttered curses and oaths, Calis slapped awake Asterion, and digging within his pack, took out the strange amulet and threw it far into the cavern behind the shamaness. All of the creatures immediately went in pursuit of the amulet, including the shamaness. The party collected Luken and rapidly left the cavern, ascending back to the fresh night air of the countryside. Luken was visibly shaken and walked without seeing, but appeared physically unhurt.

The party set off to return Luken to his father in Strayhold.

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