“Though we are not now of that strength,
Which in old days moved earth and heaven,
That which we are, we are.
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate,
But strong in will,
To strive, to seek,
To find and not to yield.”
Synopsis : A tale in which our adventurers finish their scouring of Thornkeep Manor, then after presenting their evidence to Lady Ivis Blackshield, retire to their own personal pursuits for a month of rest. They break this with a quick journey to the Accursed Halls, where they fight a troll, and finish their search of the ruins to recover the long-lost Sword of Zog.
16th of Shorn, TR 1049, Evening
With the collection of goods and paperwork, and the stony, smoldering corpse of the “starfish demon” wrapped in blankets and tied to keep its mass of tentacles gathered, the adventurers left these remnants of their excursion together near the front gate, and proceeded to the nearby barracks.
Dame Kahli loudly demanded the handful of cultists in the barracks surrender. One near the front opened the door and upon seeing the group, shouted a warning, and combat ensued. Half of them struggled to gather their crossbows, while the others spread out near the windows and door. One turned out to be a divine cultist of Kurse, and engaged in a spell-duel with “Scales” for several rounds, paralyzing him after taking a serious gout of fire from one of Scales spells that also killed one of the mercenaries. Once the doorway was cleared of guards, “Sweet”, “Shiv” and “Ricochet” charged in to attack the remainder, while Kahli cleared a couple of the archers from the windows with magical bolts of power. Eventually, all the cultists were down, with several of them captured alive, including the leader. They also took note that the badges they wore, of a whithered tree being strangled by thorns, was the same mark found on the shields of the bugbears that had been serving Blackmaw the Night Hag.
The captives were bound using half of the manacles found in the trunk next to the cage in the great hall. Shiv made certain that the cult priest was also gagged and his hands extra-tightly bound, and the group were slapped conscious and forced groggily and half-alive to stagger back into town, like a collection of slaves. Anilda tottered along behind. They took one of the horses from the manor stables, rigged with a pack saddle to carry their booty and the disintegrating demon corpse, and quickly made their way back into town, though they made certain to avoid the town commons. Slipping behind the shops around the area, they attracted a little attention from people along the edges, but those who saw them avoided the group and quietly went on their way.
While the rest had headed off to town, however, Ricochet stayed behind and did his best to release the sheep, cattle and remaining horses from their pens and the barns, noting the smoke coming from the great hall hinted at the fires definitely beginning to catch in the cellars. The task took a while, but once he was assured the animals were safe, he left the smoldering compound behind and hurried after his companions to the castle, hoping to encounter them there.
The rest made their way into the castle, though Shiv struggled to get the local guards to willingly let the bedraggled adventurers pass. Kahli intimidated the guard by showing the corpse of the disintegrating demon, offering to let him deal with the problem instead, and he let them into the castle. The castle proved to be having their own smaller harvest feast, and so Kahli and Shiv entered alone, requesting an audience in private with Lady Ivis Blackshield. They were directed to the “Formal Hall” located behind the great hall and drew a stir among the servants and guards from the castle gathered in the hall for their own feast. Cups of wine were brought while they waited, and some minutes later, Lady Blackshield appeared, and asked after their business.
The pair explained their recent excursion and the capture of the cultists and their suggestion that Bailiff Setrew had been a demon-spawn for some months. They claimed to have the evidence waiting in the castle yard, and she agreed to let them bring forth the matter into the court, that witnesses might be present and verify their claims.
The rest of the adventurers came in, hauling the six prisoners and the disintegrating corpse, to the shocked and stunned servants and soldiers present. They explained the events of the recent pig transformation led them to the castle manor, and that led to them fighting numerous undead and the demon minions of the Bailiff himself. It ended with the capture of the cultists in the baron’s name. “Sprout” presented the documents found in the cellars, depicting an army of these demons entering through a gate, and various phrases written in some diabolic tongue. The group suggested that the Bailiff had been taken by this demon, and was intent on bringing more of its kind to Thornkeep.
Scales apologized, but reminded Lady Blackshield of the recent plagues that had been affecting the lands, and that in their investigations of these, they had encountered this “Demon Bile” before, something which Sword Brother Eldrast could verify, if she had any questions about, and that the only way to destroy it, was to burn the manor to the ground. She agreed that while distasteful, it was likely needed, and accepted their actions. She might not like them, but the alternative was worse.
As the prisoners were about to be hauled away, Bresal offered to use magic to ferret out more truths. Lady Blackshield accepted his offer, and he cast Charm Person on the cult leader, successfully making the evil man his best friend. Bresal then asked him various questions, and they gained a large amount of useful information, before they were hauled away. The adventurers noted that the prisons were not in the main keep, but rather in the smaller and older bailey where the troops and clerks were stationed.
They learned that these men were all mercenaries hired over the last few months by the Bailiff, and that they had all been converted to see the might and power of Kurse. They knew the Bailiff had secretly taken service with Blackmaw the Night Hag some months ago, and in the name of Kurse, had been planning to help bring her to power. They did not know he was a corrupted “starfish demon”, but that’s okay, since it made him a better servant….. Actually a good idea, come to think about it. Demons made you stronger. They had never met this Blackmaw creature, but they knew that she was powerful and had plans to enslave all of Thornkeep and its lands. She was great that way. No, they did not know anything about the places marked on the maps, namely Raider’s Roost, Echo Cleft, and Green Dagger Farm. Besides, he wasn’t a bandit, he was a soldier serving the “greater good” of the god whose powers would bring ruin to all but the faithful. Hail the Corruptor.
Lady Blackshield took the documents recovered from the cellars, ordered the swiftly disintegrating corpse of the demon taken away as well, and bid thanks to the adventurers for their service this evening. When her husband returned on the morrow, she would inform him of their findings.
The group left the castle, extra horse in tow, and made their way back down to where the main harvest festival was drawing to a close. They took their places with their farmers and friends, mentioning nothing of the night’s activities, and Shiv took his place at the head table among the town council as Star Champion. The smells and tastes of roasting pork and free ale swiftly brought some of the night’s horror to a close. Gathering their people together, they all travelled back through the snowy trail to their home at Green Dagger Farm, and settled in for the night.
17th of Shorn : Early in the morning, the huntsmen brought Doireann and Sulli Hurler before Ricochet, Scales and Sprout, and they heard the harrowing tale of how the two had been attacked late after the festival, and the death of Sulli’s father. By lunch, several of the group agreed to investigate the matter, and rode to Thornkeep to search the wreckage. Meanwhile, Ricochet presents his gifts of cloth to the various families on the farm, earning their gratitude for the gifts.
Upon arrival, they found the remnants of the small cottage and its outbuildings, and blood everywhere. They found tracks of many, many wolves, and an especially large set of tracks that seemed to match a wolf the size of a pony. The creatures seemed to have broken-down the doors, and slaughtered everyone within, which matched that Doireann Hurler described how she had dragged her daughter out through the roof, and slipped away once the door had been smashed down by the big wolf. It seemed a little odd that they had been allowed to escape, especially given the size of their pack, but even more odd, was the fact that the wolves had come directly from the woods and attacked not only this cottage, but the people barricaded within as well, and then left back into the woods. The attack had been very deliberate.
Talking to the locals revealed that the neighbors had reported the incident, and that guards from the castle had poked through the ruins, but little else had been done. The neighbors reported the attack had been late, some time after the harvest festival had shut down for the night, and that they had heard the snarls and shouts and wolf howls, and could do little more than hunker down in their cottages and pray to their various gods for protection. After a short time, the noises stopped, and the pack of wolves had fled just as quickly back into the night.
They visited with Mistress Idara, who had heard of the attack, but knew it hadn’t happened anywhere else in town. While she knew of several other families who had suffered from the Dream Fever, none had been attacked or otherwise harmed since the fever had ended. The group headed back out to the farm again, unable to understand exactly why this tragedy had occurred.
The group then began a period of downtime, trying to learn new skills and employ their contacts earned over the last few months to improve their abilities and skills over the next few weeks.
Sweet learned Draconic by following around Scales and participating in night-time conversations with Mikmek and his companions.
Scales buckled down and studied the book “The Nine Secrets”, learning how to recognize diabolic influences and their knowledge of the arcane. He also closely read the book “Hunting the Great Wyrm”, recognizing the book was written from the perspective of the possible founder of the Greatwyrm clan. He made an order with Mistress Nessa Greenfoot for several Locate Object (2nd Level Divination) scrolls, leaving a down-payment of twenty (20) platinum royals, though they informed her that they might not be available for some time.
Lastly, he visited the Keep, and met quietly with Lady Blackshield, who spoke with him about matters in the open great hall with her maid Maid Farburrow. He explained how he was investigating the strange disappearance of his father Coinneach “Old Man” Shadow, and he had heard she had known him. He just wanted to know more about the man, and wondered what she and he had talked about.
Lady Blackshield explained how they had mostly talked about magic, but that their more interesting discussions had been about religion. When asked to clarify her meaning, she explained that Old Man Shadow had always acknowledged that the gods existed, but he felt that there were many gods and many ways for people to find their true paths to enlightenment. She herself was an ardent follower of the Gray Voyager, and had disagreed with him on this, but he had never been antagonistic of her views. In point of fact, that was part of why she had enjoyed her talks with the old man, since he had always spoken with a sense of good humor and quiet wisdom.
Scales thanked the lady for her time, and returning to the farm, shared his insights on the matter, giving everyone pause to recognize a truth about what the Lady Blackshield had said; each of the adventurers had never been taught to believe one way of living, but as children had been allowed to run free, and enjoyed a childhood of careless exploration and wonder. When they had reached the age to learn a trade, rather than teach them himself, they had been fostered to individuals that seemed to follow their own interests and talents, or gave them a structure they might not have looked for otherwise. It was as though he had wanted them to learn for themselves who they were and what they might become. The group thought and talked about this for some days.
Ricochet spent the next few weeks in training under the hand of Sword Brother Eldrast. He moved into town, and rented a room at the Green Forest Inn, along with Vesina “Ironstone”. He followed the priests personal direction on improving his diet and mastered some of the “kata” that the war master related. About halfway through his training, he was joined by Kahli, who also came to dwarf for some martial instruction.
Ricochet also spent a five-day with Huntmaster Jaervon “Longshanks” Mardesal learning how to better improve his knowledge of tracking and the woods of his elven kin. During one excursion into the woods, he explained about Tiressia, and wondered if the Huntsmaster had ever met her, and would he like to? The two headed into the woods, and Ricochet led them both straight to her lair with little difficulty, finding the serene grove much as he remembered it. He settled in with Tiresia, her guardian and her many minion birds, animals and possibly even plants. The Huntsmaster was stunned into silence.
They talked about various pleasant weather-related topics, but eventually Ricochet brought up the recent wolf attack against Sulli Hurler’s family. Tiressia suggested that it might well have been Gorian’s Pack, describing him as being a brutal dire wolf with an unusual cunning. She did, however, find it odd that he would travel all the way south to Thornkeep to attack some random family and then run away into the woods again. Ricochet assured her it was not random.
When talk turned to other matters, he eventually asked her about Blackmaw the Night Hag, and how rumors persisted she wasn’t always a hag. When pressed, she admitted that the hag had once been one of her sisters, and had gone by the name Erilyn Duskthorn, having been what was known as a “Duskthorn Dryad”. She reminded Ricochet how there were two camps regarding the now human-controlled lands of the MapN’Dor and the fey-controlled Marta’Tauri. Her sister had chosen to remain behind in the fey-controlled lands, and unlike her sisters, Tirashia, Melianse, Shyvalli, did not protect Silvershadow Lake and its environs from mortal incursions. It seemed Blackmaw did not appreciate humanity and often preyed upon others, even fey who did not agree with her views. This, in fact, had been why she had been forced from the fey courts; she was more trouble than she was worth.
Ricochet soon left the pleasantries of Tiressia’s grove, and on the trip back to Thornkeep spoke with the Huntmaster about the many interesting friends he had. Following his training, Ricochet travelled back to the farm with Vesina, and immediately related his knowledge to the group. Scales immediately suggested that Erilyn was likely Blackmaw, and that she had begun some sort of hate-fueled war against both societies. The group discussed this for some time, and while some of these facts seemed to fit, they knew that they didn’t have the full story yet.
Also, Mistress Firlan Brooks appraoched the returned Ricochet, and explained the expenses of feeding the group’s large numbers of horses, and asked permission to sell the excess horses in town for fodder for a couple seasons. Examining the expenses, he gave her permission, though she admitted she might not get the best price for the animals, especially since everyone would be selling extra livestock this time of year, she would endeavor to get a good price.
She also asked if the group had encountered any unusual plants during their journeys that might be domesticated for a new or rare crop in the local markets. After some thought, he suggested the Nightscale Roots and sent her with Mikmek and the two huntsmen on an expedition to the nearby wild gardens. She returned with several seed pods from the plants and intended to see how they would grow with the spring.
Shiv spent his days travelling to Green Forest Inn, and enlisted Flitter Fernwise in teaching him Sylvan. He bribed her with constant offerings of the finest wines and sweetmeats, spending each day in a trip to Thornkeep, and late nights travelling back to the farm. He also spent a day with a visit to the Wolfmane’s camp, meeting with Chieftain Darioth Wolfmane, and finding her a gruff individual. He also learned that she and many of her kin who lived in the local camp were far more knowledgeable about the wider world than expected. Indeed, many often hired themselves out as mercenaries or guards when young, travelling widely through the lands for a few years, before returning to their tribal lands to settle. The meeting was otherwise uneventful.
Kahli spent her time examining Elzid’s Journal, and read the full story of his fall and death, relating her personal insights to the group, particularly regarding the connection between Elzid and Blackmaw that they had begun to understand. She settled Anilda in to the dungeon quarters, giving her a bedroll in the Fallen Tower Vaults. She also spent some weeks training under Sword Brother Eldrast, learning a greater understanding of her great weapons and following many of the regimes suggested to improve her health. She also spent some time working with Brother Eldrast and healing local huntsmen and mercenaries, gaining renown with those folk. She also spent some time with Scales trying to discover what dreams Sulli Hurler suffered from, suspecting it might be like their own, but that didn’t seem to be the case.
Sprout spent time with his familiar, feeding it many of the treats he had picked up from the elves at the harvest festival. He also visited with the local Goldenfire Guild, particularly its leader, Iliara, and helped out with them, earning a little renown among the arcane spell-casters of the town. He visited with them at their meeting of the full moon on the 15th of Uktar, and discussed many of the secrets of the Accursed Halls, relating his own experiences in exploration of the ruins. They seemed to know little enough regarding Old Man Shadow. He also spent what spare time he had learning how to use the Poisoner’s Kit from Shiv, though that was little enough.
15th of Uktar, TR 1049 : When the group finally managed to have some time together, it was the day of the full moon. They met and discussed many of their findings, sitting in council at the farm mothalla. The new slate roof was actually quite magnificent, and it was beginning to feel very much like a noble’s manor, with the bustle of near-servants and guards about the place. Those dwelling in the Fallen Tower Vaults commented on how handy (and sneaky) Anilda was proving, constantly mending their clothes and keeping the place clean, rarely being seen or heard. She ate sparingly and although creepy, sitting blindly for hours at a time, was helpful.
As the day was the final time to pay taxes, Mistress Firlan Brooks and several of the farmers made the trip into town, bringing the extra horses with them to market, and intending to pay taxes. They hoped they might get some cheap fodder with all the other farmers flooding town. They returned later in the day with a stacks of hay and a several barrels of oats. They related how the Lady Blackshield had taken over much of the duties of the Bailiff during this past month. They also related the general malaise the Baron seemed to take regarding most anything happening in the realm; remembering how he had treated Ulstan Hurler hinted why Doireann had chosen to come to the adventurers seeking a safe place for her daughter and herself. She also related how the locals were talking about the rumors of a new tax in the spring for replacement of the manor; meanwhile the livestock were being kept at the manor, but the bulk of the supplies being taken in were being stored in the somewhat substantial cellars of the castle itself.
16th of Uktar : Ricochet and those in the mothalla were awakened by the harsh clamour of the locals banging various objects together in honor of the Maker’s Morn, which was an important festival in the Forest Kingdom. After laughing about it, they made a big morning feast that everyone on the farm shared and they filled the _hall with laughter and happiness. Later in the day, a huntsman came to visit the hall, jokingly introducing himself as “Terrible” Tomas, and asked for shelter and warmth on this festival day. He joined the feast, eating heartily, explaining how he had heard of the farm from the Huntmaster, and hoped to rest a spell before returning to the wilds.
He explained he had recently been working as a laborer, but had taken his leave of that business with the change in the seasons, and was now trying his luck in the forests hunting wolves. He had word that small packs had been sighted across the Raven Ridge east of Thornkeep, and was looking to make his score for the winter. When asked about Gorian, he admitted he knew little enough, but that a bounty on a wolf pet that size would set him up for a year or more, easily. When asked to specify, he related that sort of pelt would be worth at least 500 sp. After a couple hours, he thanked the adventurers and their large collection of dependents, and excused himself to return back to the winter wilds. Everyone suspected he had been a spy, but if so, by whom remained unknown.
Discussions that night among the group began connecting the odd powers of the Iron Spike of the Morighu in relation to what they knew of Blackmaw. They acknowledged they had found it close to the area she had established her lair in the Feywild borderlands, known to the group as the Den of Lies. It was certainly in the forsaken region around that lair, and they extrapolated that it might very well have been involved in the ritual of her separating herself from being a dryad and becoming a hag. Certainly, suggested Scales it might very well be of value in dealing with her in future encounters. They discussed bringing it to the talented weaponsmith in town, and getting him to forge it into something, if that was possible. It was eventually decided to see about making it into either a hammerhead or a spearhead or something.
17th of Uktar : The group gathered together and made a trip into Thornkeep. Travelling through the ever-deepening snows of winter. Visiting the weaponsmith, * Iozef Eversnow*, they noted the quality of his work, and inquired if he could cold-forge, or knew anything about the art. He said he knew a little, having come from The Kingdom of Brak, but he was no master at the art. They presented the Iron Spike, asking if he could cold-hammer it into something, like a warhammer head. He admitted he might be able to work on it for a while and fashion something like that, but it was not his specialty, and certainly wouldn’t be pretty. He asked for a handful of gold and three days to see what he might come up with, and the group left the artifact in his possession.
Having a few hours to spend in town, they discussed revisiting the Accursed Halls, and searching a couple sites they felt might hide secret doors they had not discovered, by using Shiv’s Wand of Secrets to investigate the matter. They travelled to the site, and entering, left their horses tied-up outside. At the site of the first stairway leading down into the halls, Sprout noticed that there was some sort of filth brushed up against the edge of the stairs. On investigation, he recognized the smell; it was similar to the smells of the large humanoid “nests” they had found in the ruined inn at Cold Springs. For lack of a better word, this goo was labelled “monster spoor”.
Exploring the outer chambers, they found more spoor on the bits of scaffolding and debris piled against the pillars of the central chamber, and scampered up onto the next level. Noting one of the doors on the upper level was pushed open with more spoor on it, they followed along into the chamber, remembering it as the place they had encountered a large ochre jelly on the ancient bronze statue on the far side, and one of the places they thought might hold an undiscovered secret door.
As the group wandered into the chamber, mostly clumped together and pretty much ignoring any effort to sneak, a rumbling growl came around the far corner, and a troll charged the group. The combat was fierce, but lasted only a few seconds, with the troll’s rapid claws and vicious bites rending into Ricochet, but the combined might of the adventurers swiftly burned, smashed and destroyed the beast, killing it. Once defeated, Scales continued to concentrate his fire bolts over and over, until the beast was little more than ash and charred, brittle bones.
They first searched the walls along the north and east sides for any sign of a secret passage, but couldn’t find one. Then, Shiv stood in the center of the room, and activated his Wand. Immediately, it began throbbing and pointed to the bugbear statue, particularly the large bronze book in his hands. Shiv and Sprout clambered up the statue and taking a place carefully suspended in the 20’-tall statue’s ample arms, set about investigating the book. Shiv assisted Sprout and they quickly noticed the entire right-hand “page” of the book could open with a triggering of a switch along the side, and almost triggered it, before deciding to search for traps. Finding none, Sprout flicked the switch and pulled open the cover of the secret cavity.
The cavity revealed a narrow spot holding a small-sized, verdigrised short sword, and a small lumpy pouch. Sprout reached out and grasped the small-sized short sword, and as he pulled it out of the container, it began to lengthen and grow to become a normal-sized verdigrised longsword. The cackling goblin on the hilts also changed to an unusual image of a snarling hobgoblin. Fascinated for a time with the sword, he dropped it down to Kahli, and opened the pouch to reveal a matched trio of small rubies, and then dropped that down to Kahli as well.
Kahli examined the blade, and then something in her remembrances from her lessons among the priests of Nolom suddenly stood out. She remembered hearing about a “green blade” that many of the goblin tribes of the region held with reverence… the Sword of Zog. She thought back to their first encounter in the inn at Hexwater, when the goblins had “assassinated” the merchant, and how local rumors hinted the Great Mogur Graalsk was seeking this blade for his own purposes. They had found it. The expeditions the blue-skinned Mites had been making in the Accursed Halls also suddenly made sense; they had been looking for the blade to assist their mistress Blackmaw in raising a goblin army. After a quick discussion, they agreed no one could honestly give the thing to any goblins, but that in the meantime, they could use it and decide later what they might want to do with it. Scales took possession of it, and tucked it into his belt.
They repositioned themselves and activated the wand once more, but found nothing. The group then travelled back through the halls, revisiting the “Vrock Hall”, and activated it once more, though it again turned up no secret door or traps. Deciding they had found what they could, they left made one last visit, to the Door of Seven Stars, and accessing it, they made their way to Stone Cauldron of Scrying. Scales activated it, and asked to scry on Tartuk the Mite, finding him busily at work in some sort of laboratory. Careful observation of his surroundings revealed he was in a room that seemed “grown”, from thick vines or something. With the end of the spell, they left the halls, and made their way back to their horses.
Having accomplished all they needed, the group travelled back to the farm, discussing along the way all the possibilities their recent excursions had uncovered, as well as the oddity of finding a lone troll in the middle of town, in the Accursed Halls. Upon returning to the farm, several of them spent a few hours talking late into the night about all they had recently discovered, and began making plans to speak with Tiressia regarding their discoveries, and acknowledging that it was somehow tied into the collapse of the Barony of Greatwyrm. Somehow, the brewing war must be related to the origins of the treaty that divided the Marta’Tauri from the MapN’Dor, and the discovery of the document representing that treaty, whatever form it might take, was essential to resolving the growing dispute.
But it could wait until the morrow, as the wilds were cold and the long night of Winter had begun…