“The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”
Synopsis : A tale wherein the adventurers rescue the fey-touched horse Shadowmist, and determine how best to save Dame Kahli of Whiterock from the curse of Lifebleeder. Thus girded, the group returns to Blackmaw, the Night Hag’s bugbear army and proceeds to whittle them apart in a series of engagements, eventually defeating the band and returning home in victory to Green Dagger Farm with tons of supplies and sufficient goods for the coming winter season, and a well-earned period of rest.
8th of Shorn, TR 1049 : The group stood at the top of the rock, and formulated a plan to get the stallion Shadowmist down from Blackmaw the Night Hag’s lair. After a potion-tasting competition, they discovered that one of the potions taken from the hag’s lair was a Potion of Diminution. They gave the potion over to Shadowmist, convincing him to drink it, and then lowered him down with their ropes. The group then began to follow along, as Kahli began to slowly lose her life force to the cursed ring Lifebleeder. The process took two long hours, but they managed to evacuate the Hollow Thicket and make their way to the place they had camped the night before, where Mikmek and his two companions waited.
Slowly losing her life to the ring, Kahli took one of the Potions of Healing from the hag’s lair, and immediately discovered it to be a Potion of Poison, and fell unconscious. She was stabilized, and came to, only to shatter the remaining “Potion of Healing” taken from the lair, assuming it was also a trap. The group took a short rest, and discussed their options. Kahli was dying, and their best efforts would not be able to keep her alive for much longer, but they enlisted the help of Shadowmist to carry her through the forests, and made swift time avoiding the bugbear camp and moving south, rallying Mikmek and his companions.
As they headed south, they came upon a foggy clearing, spotting an unknown carcass and a swirling swarm of blue, green and orange butterflies above it. “Scales” approached the swarm, and it coalesced into a vague humanoid shape, made of hundreds of butterflies, staring at him. He tried to communicate with it, mentioning they had killed the hag, but it seemed uninterested, staring at Scales, with what might be hunger. Eventually, the figure broke apart and the swarm dispersed into the air. Examining the corpse revealed it to be a bugbear, but it had been picked nearly clean of flesh, leaving only bones and its arms behind.
Travelling on, the group finally reached their previous campsite near the south end of Silvershadow Lake, with Kahli suffering and delirious, and falling in and out of consciousness. The group made camp, and discussed ending the curse one way or another. Scales woke Kahli up with one of their few remaining healing spells, and explained his resolution to the problem; to remove the cursed ring from her hand with the amputation of that finger. She agreed, and unwilling to allow any other to cut her, used a knife to quickly sever the ring finger, passing out once more from the shock when the deed was done. Scales tossed it into an old sack, and headed some distance from camp to bury it away from camp. Returning to camp, the group bedded down, noticing Kahli seemed to sleep better, cradling her maimed left hand.
In the night, Scales had a dream. He dreamed of being a little boy, his first memory as a child, when he was in a cave with the others in the group, several adults bustling about, readying each child for travel. _Scales felt scared, but then a familiar shape appeared before him. “Old Man Shadow”. The kindly face of the old man came from its hood, and he felt warm hands pull his cloak about him, raising the hood. “Shhh…”, said the familiar voice, “…it’s okay little Scales. Everything will be okay soon enough…”. Then he felt the once kindly hands close about his neck. The iron grip of the old man changed as his face became an old harpy, screaming and cackling in his face, spittle flying and covering him in his horror.
Meanwhile, the group was awakened by little Mikmek, who had climbed onto Scales chest and was shaking him (seemingly choking him, actually), and crying “Bad Sleeps Scales! Bad Sleeps! Wake up!” Reacting, Kahli, now feeling marginally better, immediately understood the situation, and summoned a Circle of Protection From Evil and Good around Scales. The dream ended abruptly with Scales choking and wheezing, but he was alive, and cursing hags and all their ilk. He thanked both Kahli and Mikmek, and everyone went back to sleep.
9th of Shorn : In the night, the winds had grown and blown in a thin dusting of snow over the camp. Frost played about on every tree, and there was a definite change in the air. Kahli felt the lessening tug of the ring’s curse, though she still could sense a connection. While no longer bleeding to death, she was still under its influence. As the group warmed-up and ate a cold breakfast, they discussed options. Eventually, it was decided to raid the bugbear camp. The adventurers felt that if they could conduct a series of raids, they might be able to whittle them down in strength and eventually destroy them.
Making their way back north once more, the adventurers travelled north. They passed a large grove of the mysterious Paueliel trees, with glowing lights flitting amidst its highest branches, and continued until they reached the camp and the site of their previous engagement with one of their patrols. They devised a plan, for Shadowmist to ride through the camp, and lure a band back to this spot for them to ambush.
Carefully taking places half-buried under frosty leaf-mold and behind bushes they waited, with Scales in a small marshy area acting wounded, to further lure any who came away from the bulk of his companions.
Suddenly a deep “WHAT HO!” rang out, as the thundering hooves and mocking voice of of Shadowmist could be heard running through camp, to the north. Followed by war horns and the deadly silent tread of the bugbear guards as they made their way into the ambush site, following along behind an anxious Shadowmist, who streamed curses with his valiant voice.
The group engaged with spells and arrows, felling one and then closed and slew the remaining two with few injuries among them. Taking heart in the small victory, “Ricochet” cried “To me!” and charged north into the camp, with the group raggedly following along behind.
“Kahli Knows how this is going to play out.”
The group of adventurers charged into the camp clearing and engaged the first few ranks of guards, but very quickly several more small groups began to slip from the rough timber shacks to engage the intruders.
“Yup, there it goes.”
It quickly became apparent a direct assault wasn’t going to be successful, as waves of javelins and small clusters of bugbear warriors could surround and outnumber the adventurers. Ricochet took some heavy damage, holding one group at bay, and Bresal went down under a flurry of savage strikes from several bugbears. Scales healed him and called for a retreat.
As a retreat was about to begin, a deep-throated “war cry” of “To VICTORY!” rang out as Shadowmist appeared and charged into the closest bugbears. “Sweet” cried out for Shadowmist to retreat, and after taking several javelins and a brutal strike from one bugbear’s morning star, he agreed, crying out “What Ho!” before running off in another direction, leading away a group of the bugbears into the woods. The party retreated themselves, back to the the area from before, and proceeded to face the five bugbears that followed after them.
A grand fight ensued, with javelins, arrows and spells bouncing back and forth, until the bugbears began to fall, one by one. “Shiv” managed to backstab one fresh bugbear, with Kalhi following-up and slaying it. Another brutal strike nearly felled Scales, but he managed to Shield himself, deflecting the attack. Shiv shot the final one, taking it down with another sneaky bowshot.
As silence filled the clearing, they heard off to the east, the war cries of Shadowmist, as he led his band around and away from the camp and the adventurers could be clearly heard. The adventurers slowly made their way through the woods towards him, eventually coming into a clearing where he ran past them and led the bugbears directly to the group.
A grand melee ensued, with spells and blades wearing down the bugbears, until they were in turn surrounded and outnumbered by the adventurers. Shadowmist again tried to charge into combat along the southern flank, but attracted much of the bugbear’s attentions, taking him down with a final brutal critical strike, silencing his war cries of “TO VICTORY!”.
Eventually, worn down by spells, arrows and blades, the bugbears were slain and another group was eliminated. Scales healed the badly wounded Shadowmist, his sides bearing the wounds of numerous iron javelins and a couple morning star strikes. He chose to just sit out any remaining fight, and offered to watch over the little dragons, while the adventurers dealt with the remaining bugbears.
The adventurers snuck back into the camp, slipping past the former barracks, now quiet, and made their way towards the main shack where the chief lived. They could tell something was happening in the far shack, as lights and the sound of goblin shouts and a whip could be heard. Supplies that had been there most of the night due to the snow and frost on them, were piled up in the far corner, near the off-set hut. A single raised voice could be heard from the chief’s hut.
Sweet ran swiftly around the far side of the main hall, coming around amidst the supplies, to flank and possibly drawn away some of the fighters. The other adventurers moved boldly forward, Ricochet and Kahli in the front, as first one bugbear then the chief stepped from the shack. From the far shack strode three other bugbears, and the group quickly engaged.
Scales opened with his Crown of Madness spell, managing to affect the chief with the curse, and watching in glee as he struck his mate with a solid blow from his battleaxe. In horror he recoiled from her, but then took a critical arrow shot from Shiv. The group then swiftly took apart the wounded chief, his mate, and the remaining three bugbears, Silence covered the muddy field and the bugbear camp was theirs.
The group recalled Shadowmist from the woods with his little companions, then stripped and piled the bugbears in one corner of the camp, in a “corpse heap”. They picked through the camp, finding three barracks, one of which had been long abandoned, the chief’s hall, a storage shack filled with various goods and a hall used as a prison for two humans and a burly-looking bugbear covered in whip welts. Behind the camp lay a crude pen filled with five semi-feral deer and a muddy, filth-strewn pond.
The humans were identified as Skags and Crooner, two huntsmen, who claimed to have been taken by bugbears in the western edges of Echo Wood some days ago. They claimed several others had been here at one point, but he bugbears had slowly taken them away, one by one, never to be seen again. The bugbear prisoner they claimed was not very popular among the local tribe. They said the others came in regularly to beat and whip him, speaking to each other only in goblin. The adventurers freed the two huntsmen, offering to take them with them.
The bugbear proved difficult to speak with. Using Scales under the influence of a Comprehend Languages spell, and having Kahli speak telepathically into the bugbear’s mind, they interrogated him. He had attempted to dissuade his companions from joining the hag’s army, eventually challenging the chief for control of the tribe, but failed. He had been kept alive simply at the pleasure of the chief, Hornblade. They convinced him to take what equipment and supplies he wished, and travel far, telling his people what happened to those who support the hag and her forces, based on his view of the camp today. Before leaving he identified himself as Moroch and gathering some food and equipment, slipped quietly away into the fading light.
The adventurers pulled a hidden chest from the chief’s quarters, filled with gold and silver coins, a large alabaster statue of a nymph, and a pair of Potions of Healing. From the bugbear chief, they pulled a magical battleaxe, identified later as Hornblade’s Battleaxe. Many gold coins, all with the familiar “spidery symbols” were also recovered, along with a handful of platinum from the chief’s belt pouch. The supply hall was packed with a pile of leather hides, sacks of oats and dried beans, three barrels of frothy dark beer, a keg of cooking oil and a keg of salt, and a large collection of what could best be described as “war supplies”. These goods looked to have been accumulated over some time, consisting of hundreds of iron spikes, about a thousand iron javelin heads, twenty coils of rough rope, a large collection of wooden poles, hundreds of wool winter cloaks, and about a hundred “shoulder-sacks” of an unusual design.
The group made plans to use the poles to carry much of the supplies, and divided the sacks among the group, along with as much food and rope as they could carry. They also rigged travois for the deer and for Shadowmist, though he insisted his share of supplies include the oats. These goods were placed nearby, and the group settled next to the large central fire in the heart of the camp for a long rest, well-fed from the slaughter of one of the deer by the hunters for the group, feeding everyone with a warm, hearty meal.
A series of distant horns awoke the party in the middle of the night. Darkness ruled outside the light of the campfire, and snow was once more falling amidst the frosty, night air. The group woke and readied themselves, as the horn blows became closer, joined with a chorus of dog calls and howls.
Sweet grabbed the cooking oil, and dousing the supply tent, she began burning everything they intended to leave behind. As the baying and horn calls got closer, they urged Shadowmist to keep watch over the little ones, and then readied themselves for what might come.
From the darkness appeared a lanky and grim ogre, wearing a shining mithral breastplate of unusual design and a belt made of numerous humanoid hands. Dressed in hunters clothes, he was flanked by a pair of shadowy, indistinct hounds that seemed to fade back and forth into the darkness around them.
The attackers swiftly moved into the edge of the firelight, just past the “torso heap”, and engaged Ricochet and the adventurers. One of the hounds gave out a blood-curdling howl, and almost everyone felt the power of its fearful cry, unable to move forward, and fighting them somewhat disadvantaged.
While Kahli, who was not affected by the terrifying howl, and Ricochet dealt with the other hound, Scales boldly approached the group and used the “Pit Patch” from the Robe of the Hag creating a 10’-cube pit directly under the ogre’s feet. It managed to leap back to safety, but Kahli took advantage of the sudden appearance of the pit to shove the hound she was fighting directly into it with her shield. It fell in with barely a sound but it’s howls and cries of dismay echoed from the depths.
The ogre carefully maneuvered around the pit and laid into Ricochet while Kahli moved to do the same thing with the other hound. The ogre got in a solid strike with its pike as Kahli drove the remaining hound into the dark pit to join it’s packmate. With the source of the frightening howl now out of sight, everyone immediately took heart and concentrated their fire on the tall, lanky ogre. Weathering a brutal series of strikes that seemed fairly ineffectual, the Ogre roared in surprised agony when Kahli struck him with Hornblade’s Battleaxe and found it seemed to beat past the ogre’s magical defenses. With a final brutal strike and empowering the battleaxe with a Smite, the ogre huntsman went down, clawing the ground with a final whisper in giant; “…Ripple…”, before dying. Dropping a Light-enspelled copper piece into the pit, they fired arrows, spells and even rocks on the two hounds, slaying them with ease, despite their howls and cries.
On the ogre’s corpse, they recovered both a Cloak of Elvenkind and the Breastplate of Shades and Rushes. They dragged his corpse into the pit and tossed the other corpses in on top. Settling down once more, they attempted to get some sleep as the snows continued to fall once more, covering the combat and slowing the burning cache of supplies.
10th of Shorn : Wakening once more to a frost-covered world slowly filling with snow, the group ensured the supplies were fairly destroyed and set fire to the remaining shacks. After a quick morning breakfast, they headed out, travelling south once more. The group made good time, reaching the campsite from previous as night fell, and once more settled-down for a long rest.
During Ricochet’s watch, a now-familiar humanoid shape of a swarm of butterflies appeared at the edge of the camp, watching them. He approached and tried to speak elvish with it, which it seemed to understand. A sibilant conversation started, as the figure identified itself as Lord Pepprick, the Butterfly Lord, and it had come to warn the adventurers to leave the Marta’Tauri. Their fires at the bugbear camp had been noticed and their welcome exceeded. It seemed unconcerned about the fate of either the hag or her bugbears, and warned that future actions such as that would be met with strong force. It then told Ricochet to “…bid Rushes-and-Shades well in her duties…”, and vanished once more in a puff of butterflies that swiftly drifted away into the frosty tree tops.
11th of Shorn : Searching for a finger under the snow, proved fruitless, all the adventurers found was a hole where it had once been; Blackmaw the Night Hag had reclaimed her property. Any tracks remaining had long been destroyed by the snows.
The group proceeded south along the Mythwater, though the accumulating snows slowed their progress, and made them retrace their steps once or twice. Eventually, the group reached the ruins of Narad, or more commonly known as Thorn River Crossing to the bandits. The site had been disturbed by some sort of predators, but otherwise remained untouched. Sweet led the two huntsmen in feeding and watering the handful of livestock that remained, namely a couple horses, an ox and a small herd of goats. The rest examined remaining supplies, choosing the better portions, and loaded them aboard both carts left at the site. They piled on whatever weapons and armor they could salvage from the site, and made preparation for travelling in the morning.
Taking shelter in the first tree-fort as before, they took standard watches, with only some forest creature disturbing the “corpse pile” near the bridge in the night, but the adventurers left it alone.
12th of Shorn : The adventurers headed out as early as they could, pushing through the slowly rising snows and cold. As they crossed the bridge, they felt the sudden tug of something, the only hint they had once more entered into the MapN’dor, or “Stolen Lands”. They followed a small trail with their caravan, reaching an abandoned timber camp in a couple hours. From here they took a less-travelled north trail that slowly bent north-west and eventually came upon the ruins of an abandoned steading, what they determined to be the ruins of Sunstone. taking the trail north, they eventually passed Halted-Stream Camp, and the crossroads west to Thornkeep. Hurrying along, they headed north, and reached Green Dagger Farm just before dark, welcomed back by their farmers.
The group declared a feast for their return, and opened one of their barrels of Firestone Cider, while their farmers took care of the animals and readied for the feast. The night went long, as the adventurers stored their weapons and loot, learning of the near completion of the Fallen Tower Vaults, and the arrival of their shares in the sale of the Poison Resistance Scale Armor earlier sent to Mornhaven. Amidst the feasting the group showed their many goods, and the shoulder-bags turned out to be the most popular item among the farmers. They each took one, and the huntsmen entered formal service, taking arms and armor to provide some protection and service for the hall in exchange for their work on the farm.
Everyone was warm and happy, and looking forward to the days ahead. Food was plentiful, the fires were bright, and there was much hope for the future.