Eleint 18, 1479, Year of the Ageless One (three days before the Autumn Equinox)
To be continued…
Eleint 19, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
Both rangers saw the man in polished plate mail armor standing in the middle of the road.
He was tall, had a weathered face, and was armed with sword and shield. They saw that his shield bore a yellow skull wearing a horned helm on a black field. He resembled a knight.
Behind the knight, a large wagon sat in the middle of the road. One of its wheels had been removed from the axle and was propped up against a nearby tree. A second figure in fine clothing stood next to the wagon, hands on hips, frustration clearly displayed by his body language. A cowl obscured the person’s face.
Nearby, two green-scaled drakes lounged in the sun. Beyond them, two horses, free from the wagon, grazed lazily at the eaves of the woods.
The knight smiled when he saw the two rangers.
“Greetings and well met, good travelers,” the knight said. “My name is Sir Tyros Halfhelm, a knight by trade. This gem cutter, Lerix, hired me to escort him on these dangerous roads. But our wagon’s wheel is damaged. We could use some help getting it back on the wagon, but I am hesitant to take my eyes off the road. I’ve heard tell that travelers have disappeared out this way in recent times. Brigands, no doubt.”
“Well met to you as well,” Therand said while looking around at the surrounding area. “How can we help?”
“I wonder if you would be good enough to offer us some assistance?” Sir Tyros said. “Perhaps one of you can help us with the wagon.”
“We would love to help,” Rowan said while still keeping his distance. “But we are Wardens of the Vale. Our job is to patrol and watch for danger and cannot directly help.”
The knight regarded Rowan with curiosity and a hint of frustration. "I have never heard of people whose task it is to “watch” but not help."
Therand moved closer to Rowan.
“I will climb up upon the ridge to the south and cover the high ground,” Therand said.
“Good. I will speak with this knight and see what he is about,” Rowan said. “But let us not forget our mission. We are to find the gnoll chief, Toryk. Any delay will cost us precious time.”
Therand nodded in agreement and made his way up to the high ground that ran parallel to the road. When he reached the area where the ground sloped upward towards a thick copse of trees, he found the ground soft and difficult to climb. Try as he might, he slipped and slid down. Covered in mud, Therand made his way back to Rowan who had walked back to a safe distance after speaking to the knight.
“The slope is soft and hard to climb,” Therand explained.
“Remain here then and watch the road,” Rowan advised. “I’ll try to find an easier way up there where we can have a vantage view of the road and these two travelers.”
“What did you learn from the knight?” Therand asked.
“He repeated what he’s already told us,” Rowan said. “He did add that they lost another in their party further down the road from where they came from. He described an ambush by brigands.”
“Yet those two managed to have escaped a deadly ambush?” Therand added with a hint of disbelief.
“Aye,” Rowan said. “My thoughts exactly.” The ranger then turned and quickly made his way towards the slope. From where Therand stood, he could see Rowan making good progress up the slippery ground. In a short time, the ranger had disappeared from sight.
“I’ll be just as skilled someday,” Therand whispered to himself.
Keeping the knight in his view, Therand walked over to a large oak tree at the edge of the road.
Above the road, Rowan quietly pushed his way through thick briers.
He suddenly stopped. The scent of smoke caught his attention.
Turning away from the direction of the road, he made his way towards the source of the smell.
He emerged from between two maple trees. A camp was spread out before him. Three weathered tents were pitched around a campfire that looked like it was recently put out. He quietly moved into the camp, keeping vigilant for any signs of the camp’s inhabitants.
A man suddenly stepped out of a tent a few feet from where Rowan stood. The man was dressed in leather and held a longsword. The man’s eye grew wide in surprise when he spotted Rowan. He opened his mouth to yell—
Rowan silenced the man with a well-placed arrow shot into the man’s throat. The man fell back into the tent. Rowan spotted another man emerge from behind a tree at the other side of the camp. The man, too, wore leather but held a short bow in his hand. The man turned to flee into the woods. Rowan stopped him with arrow through his back.
Rowan quickly ran through the camp searching for any more of the armed men. When he was certain no one was left in the camp, he quickly made his back to the road to warn Therand.
Therand meanwhile scanned the area nearby. The knight and the other man working on the wagon’s wheel suspiciously kept looking at his direction. Therand also noticed that the knight kept looking towards the treeline where Therand was. He looked around and swore he saw what appeared to be someone hiding behind a small maple tree a short distance away.
Therand had an uncanny feeling that something bad was about to happen.
Above the road, Rowan moved fast. He came out of a thicket and spotted two more men trying to hide behind a large outcropping of rocks. They were both armored like the men back in camp. Each also had shortbows drawn back and trained at the road below.
The ranger moved in quick, firing arrow after arrow into each one. Both lay dead by the time Rowan reached the edge where the ground sloped downward.
Down below, Therand fired at the figure crouched behind the maple tree. His arrow struck the tree but scared the hidden figure into revealing himself. A short human man armed with a crossbow stood up and fired in Therand’s direction. The bolt zipped past his head.
Suddenly another figure—a male half elf—emerged from behind a clump of thick bushes some distance away. The figure raised his crossbow and fired at Therand. The bolt struck the ranger, nearly causing him to double over in pain.
From the direction of the wagon, Therand heard the angry chirping staccato of the scaled-drakes get louder. He looked towards the wagon. The knight, Tyros, was moving in his direction while Lerix, the cowled figure working on the wagon wheel ran towards the tree line.
Therand knew he was being flanked.
He fired again at the nearest crossbowman but his aim was too high.
Fearing he would be surrounded, Therand ran towards the wagon hoping to find better cover. All the while, he wondered where Rowan had gone. Was he dead? Did he flee back to Bear’s Head to warn the others? All these crossed his mind as another bolt buried itself into his lower back.
He managed to make it to a short tree when he suddenly spotted Lerix step out into the open from behind a bush. The man’s cowl fell back to reveal a cat-like face with reddish eyes and oily brown hair. Small black horns grew out of his forehead. Therand recognized Lerix as a tiefling, beings who can trace their ancestry back to the Nine Hells.
With a wicked grin, the tiefling raised his hand and pointed it at Therand. His hand began to glow. Suddenly, a fiery bolt materialized and hurled itself at the ranger. When the magical bolt struck him, intense white fire quickly spread throughout his body burning him painfully wherever it touched his exposed skin.
Giving up his position, Therand bolted towards the wagon. He saw the two horses tethered near the wagon. If he could reach one of them, he could try to escape on horseback. He knew Rowan was capable of taking care of himself.
A crossbow bolt zipped past him, while a second one struck his calf.
To his right, he saw armored knight run behind the wagon for cover. Behind him, the tiefling wizard sought cover behind a large boulder. He was looking up where Rowan went earlier and was shouting orders to the crossbowmen to be alert.
He looked at the nearest horse and saw something that nearly caused him to stop dead in his tracks. Unbelievably, the horse started to split in two! The entire top portion of the horse was separating itself from the lower half. Inside the fake horse, two men armored in leather were trying to take off the lower half of the horse which was held up by suspenders worn by the two.
Moments later, they were both free and had unsheathed longswords. Both looked at Therand and started to move towards him.
Therand took aim and fired at the two men. He struck one who dropped dead. The other kept moving towards him.
Just then, another magical bolt struck Therand from behind. Searing heat engulfed him sending waves of fiery pain throughout his entire body. As darkness engulfed him, Therand felt the ground rise up to greet him. Then everything went dark.
Above the road, Rowan watched as Therand was struck by the tiefling’s fiery bolt. He quickly loosed an arrow that struck the tiefling. He also saw a man armed with a longsword run up to the fallen ranger. Seconds later, the man raised his blade above the ranger’s body then drove the blade downward to make certain Therand was dead.
To be continued…
Eleint 18 – 19, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
“It’s too bad I can’t turn U’Cla into my own mount,” Lo-kag said with disappointment. “Since everyone has mounts these days, it’s time I got one too!”
Caldreas and Deb both smiled. True, since Huntrah had first arrived at Bear’s Head mounted on a terrifying wyvern he named Sting, it seemed many were seeing the value of owning a mount. Caldreas had recently purchased a hippogriff from Iriaebor, while Deb had acquired a dire wolf as a mount.
Around the three, the sounds of merrymaking; of singing and drinking grew louder. With three days remaining until the Autumn Equinox, it seemed people were busy celebrating before the onset of winter. There was much to celebrate about after all. With the Sunset Vale free of undead once again, life seemed to be returning to normal again.
Across the room, a satyr bard just finished playing an sad elven tune on his lyre. He stood up from his stool and got the crowd to join in a song of thanks to the person who invented beer. The crowd raised their mugs in salute at the song ended.
No sooner had one song ended when a table of goblins—rare goblins who chose to live among civilized people to abandon their evil ways—offered up a song of courage and foolhardiness to a particular goliath, halfling, and eladrin, whom the goblins heard where going after U’Cla, the mightiest of dire bears.
And so the night went on until the inn closed and adventurers and townsfolk alike left the Bear’s Head Inn or turned in for the night.
Early morning mist still clung to the ground when the three left the comfort of Bear’s Head and made their way to the Reaching Wood.
Several miles into the forest, the group encountered a band of poachers who surprised them with a volley of bolts fired from crossbows. The adventurers returned the ambush with attacks of their own which claimed the lives of every poacher save one, their leader. Unfortunately, the battle also cost Deb to lose his mount which was killed during the encounter.
When interrogated, the leader revealed himself to be a person with a bounty on his head. Kira, the innkeeper of Bear’s Head, had told the group about a man who was poaching in the Reaching Woods. The town of Bear’s Head had then placed a reward on his head.
Satisfied they had the right man, the three gathered what they could from the slain poachers and made their way back to Bear’s Head to turn the poacher over to the authorities. Along the way, they asked him what he knew of U’Cla and if he had seen signs of the dire bear which they were hunting.
“That devil of an animal killed some of my men several days ago,” the poacher said with spite in his tone. “I was lucky to escape with my life. Now you will try to kill it? Gods be with you, but you will not be able to kill it. There is no one alive who can kill that beast.”
After leaving the poacher with the guards at Bear’s Head, the three traveled back to the Reaching Wood with thoughts regarding what the poacher had said about U’Cla.
The story continues in U’Cla
Eleint 18, 1479, Year of the Ageless One (three days before the Autumn Equinox)
“People have been seeing those bubbles rise out of the lake for almost a year now?” Tink asked Kira, the the half-elf innkeeper of Bear’s Head Inn. Despite only being in her 20s, Kira was respected as a matronly figure who always looked out for the well-being of everyone who stayed at the inn.
“Yes.” Kira answered. “We’ve been aware of it for some time, but since no guard or citizen had seen anything of a strange nature come out of the lake, we haven’t been overly concerned.”
“What does the Regent and the others think is causing the bubbles?”
“Hard to say for certain. Although some think it’s a fissure at the bottom of the lake, or perhaps an underwater cave of sorts—”
“—Could it be a creature?” Tink interrupted.
“We’ve considered that possibility, but as I said, no one has seen anything. You know very well how the guards keep a sharp eye out for trouble or any hint of it in Bear’s Head, so it’s not likely to be some ‘lake monster’ if that’s what your suggesting.”
“I suppose not, " Tink said in a disappointed tone. She takes another spoonful of cooked eggs from her plate then washes it down with a mug of warm milk Kira had prepared especially for her. She looked around the inn’s main room and saw three people cleaning and preparing the room for the day’s guests. Tink recognized all but one of the men—a young half-orc busy unstacking chairs and rearranging them around some nearby tables.
“Well, I’m sure you will eventually discover what is causing those bubble to rise out of the lake,” Kira said. “With your thirst for knowing what isn’t known and for building contraptions, I’m sure you’ll get to the bottom of this mystery—no pun intended.”
Tink laughed. “You’re right, Kira. I will solve this mystery. But if only I can put together an expedition to venture into the Underdark Shallows.”
“You mentioned finding a means of entering the Underdark from the surface of the Western Vale.” Kira said. “Where is this entrance?”
“It’s 2.6 miles south by southeast of Five Hills,” Tink said. “It’s a sinkhole at the end of rather large ravine. It must have recently opened up too! I suspect the latest storm must have weakened the ground in that part of the ravine…”
Kira couldn’t help but notice how excited Tink was getting. She had known the young half-elf long enough to know that when Tink enters her realm—a world of exploration, of learning, and of building wondrous contraptions and items—there’s no stopping the young girl.
“…Since the ravine slopes to the north at a 23.8° angle relative to the surrounding surface, most of the rainwater must have accumulated there. Eventually all that weight of water—for you know that water weighs in at 8.345404 lbs. per gallon, and there must have been hundreds if not thousands of gallons of it—just became too heavy. I tried to take measurements of the exact amount of water that must have been there, but I figured it would have taken me 3.4 days to make the necessary measurements based on the density of the surrounding dirt, amount of precipitation, and—”.
“—Tink, get back to the part about the sinkhole please.” Kira pleaded. “I need to open the inn soon.”
“Of course,” Tink said. “Ergo, a sinkhole would naturally occur. Assuming of course, there was a sufficient pocket of space below the surface to accept that much water.”
“Naturally.” Kira said. “And you suspect this ‘pocket of space’ leads to the Shallows?”
“I do indeed!” Tink exclaimed. “As far as my maps and investigation has found so far, there are no known egresses or entrances into the Underdark in the Sunset Vale. But this proves that they do exist.”
“How deep is the sinkhole?” Kira asked.
“59 feet, 10 inches in depth.”
“Well, you better pack a long rope.” Kira said.
“I’m packed and ready,” Tink said. “Now, I just need others to join me in my expedition.”
“Did someone mention an expedition?” A voice asked from the direction of the front door.
Tink and Kira both looked at the direction of the door. They saw a tiefling enter, carrying several small burlap sacks.
“Well met, Skamus!” Kira greeted the tiefling warmly. “I see you’ve brought me your finest harvest, just as I had requested.”
“As promised,” Skamus said. “I brought you some newly harvested onions, potatoes, and leeks.”
“Please bring those over to this side of the bar, if you don’t mind.” Kira said.
Skamus walked over to a counter behind the bar and gently sat the sacks down. Kira handed him several coins in return.
“So, what’s this again about an expedition?” Skamus asked as his tail reaches over to a basket of fruits. He carefully took out an apple and bit into it. “Kira, it’s been some time since I’ve gone adventuring and I’m starting to miss it.”
“Skamus, I would like to introduce you to Tink,” Kira said. “Tink is Rolando’s niece.”
“Well met Tink,” Skamus said. “I must say that I don’t recall seeing you around here—although my wife Freda and I are fairly new to this town. I know your uncle but I don’t recall having heard anyone mention he had a niece in Bear’s Head. Truth be told, I didn’t think the old mage had any relatives at all.”
“I’m not entirely surprised,” Tink said. “Uncle Rolando doesn’t talk about his personal life much. However, I haven’t been in town for some time now. I’ve been busy traveling through Iriaebor and visiting friends in several towns along the Dragonmere coast for the past few months. I arrived here just a few days ago. It’s amazing how much the town has changed in just the few months since I left.”
“There’s been quite a lot of changes here,” Kira said. “Especially since the undead troubles began a while back. Now that the undead incursion has been dealt with, hopefully life can return to normal around here—at least as normal as can be for a town with drows, a goliath, and a lich.”
Kursk, who had been cleaning and preparing the room for the day’s guests, couldn’t help but overhear the conversation. Out of money, Kursk welcomed the opportunity for adventure. Despite not wanting to interrupt, he walked up to Kira.
“Forgive me but I couldn’t help but overhear you talking about an expedition,” Kursk said.
“It’s alright Kursk,” Kira said. “Go on.”
“Maybe I can be of help,” Kursk said.
A short time later, the group now consisting of a half-elf artificer, a tiefling fighter, and a half-orc barbarian, made plans to explore the Underdark Shallows. Quinn Justice, a half-elf wizard, also joined the group after dropping by the inn and introducing himself.
As an added incentive, Kira offers the reward of 500 gold coins to each member once they’ve solved the mystery of the mysterious bubbles.
As the group prepared themselves, Tink shared that while she was resting at an abandoned farmstead the day before she had accidentally left her ritual book behind. She added that the book has several rituals, some of them healing rituals that can benefit the group. The group gathered their belongings and left Bear’s Head.
At the farmstead, the group came across a nest of stirges. Quinn was hurt in the attack, but the group prevailed and killed three of the blood-thirsty creatures.
After rummaging for some time, Kursk found Tink’s ritual book. The group then made its way to the ravine where Tink saw a sinkhole she suspected led to the Shallows.
At the sinkhole, the group took out a rope and secured it. From above, everyone spotted a tunnel extend away from the sinkhole far below.
Skamus was the first to descend, followed by Kursk. The damp smell of a freshly caved-in sinkhole was strong. Unable to see what lay within the tunnel, Skamus threw a sunrod into it illuminating it brightly. Seconds later, he spotted two black spiders—each almost as big as him—coming at him, their fangs dripping with poison.
“Spiders!” Skamus yelled back to the others.
Kursk, not wanting to be caught on the rope with spiders around, tried to climb down as fast as possible.
Above, Quinn prepared himself, ready to act as soon as he could see a target. Moments later, the first of two spiders scuttled into view. Keeping his focus on the spider, he let loose a mental attack on the spider. Although the wizard knew he had penetrated the animal’s mental defense, it seemed hardly phased by the attack.
The second spider crawled up the wall and onto the tunnel’s ceiling and emerged seconds later into the sinkhole. Skamus swung his halberd but struck the soft dirt wall just behind the spider. The creature moved past the tiefling towards Kursk who was still clinging to the rope. When it came with in reach, the spider tried to bite the half-orc who kicked his legs forward to avoid getting bitten. He then quickly slid down the rope.
Skamus refocused on the first spider. His halberd struck one of its many legs, cutting it completely off. A second attack struck it near the head sending a thick glob of spider ichor splashing onto the tiefling chest. Calling upon all of his might, Skamus impaled the creature, killing it instantly.
Quinn unleashed a charm spell but missed. Tink switched to a range weapon just as the spider above Kursk quickly moved towards the half-orc, hissing as it bared its fangs.
Skamus quickly turned around.
Gripping the halberd with one hand, he grabbed Kursk by the shoulder and pulled as hard as he could. As he did so, he stepped into the spot previously occupied by the half-orc just as the spider bit down. Skamus grunted as the spider’s fangs bit through his chainmail and pierced his flesh. The tiefling quickly countered, swiping his halberd in a wide arc that tore trough chitinous legs.
Somehow, the spider still kept its grip on the wall’s surface despite losing nearly half of its spindly legs.
Kursk charged at the spider, but his battle axe struck the wall just below the creature which hissed at him in anger.
Tink quickly loaded her dejada—a sling-like weapon—with a bullet and took aim at the spider below her. She spun her arm in a tight circle and let loose. The bullet zipped towards the spider and struck it. It fell to the ground dead.
“Nice shot,” Quinn said to Tink. The artificer gave him a grateful smile in return.
“Let’s get down there and join the others,” Tink said as she grabbed the rope.
Quinn took the rope away from her. “I’ll go first,” he said. He then wrapped the rope around his arm and began to repel down.
A few feet into his descend, Quinn lost his footing and fell. He landed hard but was not seriously injured.
I’m glad he went first, Tink whispered to herself. She then grabbed the rope and slowly made her way down to join the others below.
Eleint 2 – 3, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
The lamia is a formidable opponent.
For what seems like an eternity, the adventurers have been battling the lamia, one of deadliest creature they have ever encountered. Weapons and spells seem almost ineffective against her. Each strike of blade or spell barely hurts the powerful fey creature.
However, the adventurers are beginning to wear the lamia down. Bloodied from its wounds brought on by the adventurers’ relentless attacks, the lamia is resorting to attacks that can cause the most amount of damage to everyone.
And so the encounter is truly becoming a battle for life. A battle to test and see who truly wants to win and live, or lose and die.
Kallin Rourke hears someone scream for help.
He turns his attention away from the elven boat and looks towards the river. There, struggling to swim against the strong current is a small person—a female gnome by the sounds and looks of it. Despite sensing a possible trap—for he knows not to trust everything in the Feywild—Kallin runs to the river’s edge. He quickly rummages through his gear and takes out a rope. It is strong yet supple. Tiny eldritch markings are barely noticeable across its silken strands.
With an arcane word, Kallin releases one end of the rope. Like a living snake, the rope uncoils itself and snakes its way across the top of the water, straight for the struggling gnome. Within seconds, the rope has reached the gnome. It ties itself around the gnome. Kallin then begins to pull the gnome back to shore.
Inside, the battle against the lamia has taken a turn for the worse. Outnumbered and bloodied, the lamia summons a swarm of scarabs to fight alongside her!
Jobek quaffs a potion of vitality as Fredara strikes the lamia in the arm. Not stopping, Fredara swings down on the swarm of deadly scarabs and kills dozens of them in one strike. Her momentum carries the blade back to the lamia. It screams in rage at Fredara’s onslaught.
The others, dazed by the lamia’s earlier are unable to do much to affect the deadly fey creature. Monro catches his breath and manages to ignore some of the pain he feels. Luthan, meanwhile, takes careful aim as he takes a careful step back from the swarm of scarabs. He lets loose an arrow that skewers several of the deadly bugs.
Outside, Kallin pulls the gnome to shore but keeps his distance. “Who are you?” He asks the gnome. The magical rope lets go of the gnome and winds itself back into a coil in Kallin’s hands.
The gnome gags and spits out a mouthful of water. “I am Orva,” she says. “I am with the other adventurers inside. We must hurry and warn them not to touch the door!”
Kallin runs inside. Orva quickly follows.
Within moments, the battle turns deadly.
The lamia unleashes a deadly swarm of poisonous beetles that swarms over anyone unfortunate enough to get in its way. The adventurers do their best, but in the end, Vyn succumbs to the poisonous beetles just as Patch kills the lamia. A few breaths later and the battle is over, the last of the deadly beetle squashed under Jobek’s boot.
The group rests for the remainder of the day. During that time, Kallin shares about his encounters in the Garden of Graves and of the death of a fellow adventurer he came across the day before. The others, in turn, share what they’ve encountered.
Orva also describes discovering a strange door in an adjoining room. A small pool of clear water rested on the door itself as if defying the very laws of gravity. She spotted a platinum key at the bottom of the _pool__, but when she tried to take it, she suddenly found herself outside, in the river, next to the obelisk. That’s when, she says, Kallin saved her from nearly being swept downriver.
Before they decided to deal with the mystery of the pool and the key, the group decides to place Vyn’s body in the Haversack hoping they can bring him back to life at a later date or at the very least, give the fallen paladin a fitting burial back in Bear’s Head.
As the group stands by the door with the pool, Kallin volunteers to retrieve the key. He plunges his hand as quickly as he can into the bottom of the pool. Almost reaching to the top of his arm, the water felt very cold. He grabs the key and pulls his arm out quickly. Suddenly, a snake formed of water shoots out and almost strikes Kallin’s arm.
The ranger leaps back as the snake loses its form and splashes to the floor.
With the key in their possession, the group decides to rest for the remainder of the day and explore the rest of the strange place after everyone was fully rested.
The next day, they cross the rickety bridge and enter the building they saw across the river. Inside, they come across a room full of hanging tapestries. One particular tapestry stole their attention.
On it, they noticed a door. A person holding a platinum key similar to the one they found the day before stood nearby, while lightning—seemingly lashing out from the door itself—strikes another man who may have tried to open the door.
As everyone looks searches the room, Kallin spots secret doors nearby. He tells the others about his discovery.
While the others try to find means of opening the secret doors, Kallin touches the tapestry with the real key. As the key touches the tapestry, everyone hears what sounds like a door opening someplace nearby, but to the group’s surprise none of the secret doors had opened.
Everyone looks puzzled, wondering what door had they opened.
Luthan Graythicket (male half-elf ranger companion, from Elturgard), Orva (female gnome arcanist companion, from the Feywild)
Eleint 9 – 12, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
Everyone waited for the arrival of the High Swords from Bear’s Head.
While some rested, others took pen to journal and recorded entries, or wrote letters to loved ones. Some were simply lost in their personal thoughts of what had transpired earlier, and of the death of a fellow adventurer or soldier.
Taerin and Leoneiros, the former Zhentarim soldiers, approached the group and asked if they can leave. Since they were given the opportunity for freedom if they helped fight the ghouls, they felt that they had deserved their freedom. They were afraid of dying or worse, turning into a ghoul like Arroway, if they remained.
The others allowed them to leave and handed them their crossbows. They were warned not to head towards Darkhold, nor south towards Asbravn. Instead they should head west to Longpine. Deb suggested they speak to Rowan Greenmantle, a ranger at longpine for help. Therand also suggested that they change their evil ways and abandon their Zhentarim armor and uniform once they reached Longpine.
Lo-kag then moved up to Taerin. He took off his helm and offered it to the soldier, who was shocked to see the goliath part with his helm. Unbeknownst to everyone else, the Helm of the Madman’s Blood had whispered to Lo-kag that it wanted to go with the Zhentarim soldiers. In return, the helm promised to leave Lo-kag with a Phoenix Helm.
Lo-kag agreed. The soldiers bid the group farewell and left the jailhouse.
By mid-afternoon, someone knocked on the front door to the jailhouse. Lo-kag went downstairs to investigate while Deb peered out of a window and spotted a rider on a griffon hovering above the town a short distance away. Deb recognized the rider as a High Sword from Bear’s Head.
Lo-kag, after opening the door, met two High Swords who greeted him.
Everyone met to formulate a plan to attack Vrikus and his small army of ghouls. While the High Swords took to the air to assault Vrikus’s lair from inside the pit, the others entered the tunnels below the town’s jailhouse. Thanks to Deb, the group was able to see in the dark and navigate their way through the tunnels.
Below the town, the Company of the Siren Song carefully made their way through the tunnels. The tunnels were naturally carved, clearly dug out by kruthiks that have turned the ground below Hluthvar into a vast hive of sorts. Everyone wondered how the people of Hluthvar could have lived without realizing they were living on top of a hive of kruthiks. Although, the occasional remains of a dog or cat suggests that they may have had some run-ins with the kruthiks.
The group continued along the tunnels. They came upon a large cavern. Two side tunnels led farther in the hive. The group stopped to discuss their next option. However, Winslow marched past the group.
“I will not skulk about like a cowardly rogue,” Winslow said defiantly. “Not while a woman and her child’s lives are in danger.” With that said, the paladin quickly marched right into the large cavern.
The others saw the ghouls trying to hide in the nearby tunnels. But before anyone could warn Winslow, the ghouls rushed out to attack him. Winslow barely managed to survive the rush of ghouls that came at him. Severely injured, the paladin retreated back down the tunnel, while the others held their ground.
Meanwhile, the Highs Swords flew down into the pit. They dismounted their griffons and ordered the majestic creatures to fly above the town for safety. Brandishing their weapons, the Highs Swords entered the lair of Vrikus.
Inside the lair, the battle was fierce. The Company of the Siren Song fought with all of their might, while the High Sword destroyed every ghoul unfortunate enough to stand in their way.
Inside the lair, the High Swords saw a cage. Sara was inside, crying in fear for her life.
One of the High Swords, who was still mounted on his griffon then opened a portal which allowed him to pull the cage through. Vrikus, upon seeing his captured prey being rescued, howled in anger! With the girl’s rescue, Vrikus knew it was only a matter of time before his army of ghouls would be destroyed by the clearly powerful intruders. With no other choice, Vrikus escaped down one of the tunnels, leaving the other ghouls do deal with the intruders.
In time, the battle against the ghouls was won. Although some in the Company of the Siren Song were injured, healing spells were used upon them.
A thorough search of the tunnels leading out of Vrikus’s lair yielded nothing. Vrikus, along with one other ghoul, managed to escape through a small tunnel. The ghoul lord had collapsed the tunnel behind him to prevent anyone from coming after him. Everyone knew that perhaps someday, they would come across Vrikus again.
With a storm coming in the from the north, everyone decided to remain in Hluthvar until the storm passed.
Three days later, under clear skies, everyone gathered themselves together and prepared to return to Bear’s Head. But just as the High Swords soared into the sky above Hluthvar, they spotted an army marching in from the northeast—from the Far Hills.
The army turned out to be from Cormyr, from Castle Aris at the edge of the Farsea Swamp. Led by Onrion (Major) Onfel Dhardra, the army of one hundred elite Purple Dragon soldiers marched into the eastern Vale after scouts sent from Castle Aris nearly two rides ago reported that Hluthvar may have fallen to the Zhentarims.
In a heated meeting held with the High Swords and Onrion Dhardra, the High Swords argued that adventurers from Bear’s Head had just freed Hluthvar from the ghoul lord, Vrikus and his foul minions, and that they now wish to see Hluthvar returned to its people. The High Swords argued that Cormyr had no right to enter the Eastern Vale and occupy Hluthvar. The Vale, they said, belonged to the people of the Vale.
Onrion Dhardra countered that until the citizens of Hluthvar returned to once again govern the town, he and his army would remain to ensure the safety of the town and its future. He said that until that day, Hluthvar would remain a protectorate town of Cormyr. Any interference from Bear’s Head, the Onrion warned, would be considered a provocation of war against the Forest Kingdom.
The next day, a message was magically received from Bear’s Head. Zaachaeus and the others had returned from their mission in the southern Sunset Mountains. The Regent of the Western Vale told the High Swords to return to Bear’s Head and leave the future of Hluthvar to the forces of Cormyr.
At this point, Winslow Crestkeeper met with the Company of the Siren Song. He thanked everyone for the opportunity to fight alongside them. He said that he would be returning to Cormyr. Eventually, he will return to Hluthvar to help rebuild it. He added that he will be asking the citizens of Hluthvar if he can start his family’s trading coster in Hluthvar instead of Bear’s Head as he previously planned to do.
The paladin also announced word had arrived that a powerful adventuring company from Iriaebor, calling themselves Faerun’s Fabulous Five had apparently freed Asbravn from the vast horde of undead there. Everyone found it hard to believe but it seemed the scourge that had been plaguing the Sunset Vale had finally been stopped.
With some final words said, the adventurers from Bear’s Head—along with the High Swords—left Hluthvar.
As they left, they all wondered what the future of Hluthvar, and in fact the future of the Sunset Vale, held for its people.
Bear’s Head High Swords
Eleint 2, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
The roar of the cascading waterfall all but drowned out the foul screeching of two harpies flying straight at Kallin Rourke.
The closest one, which moments before was perched on a tree on the other side of the narrow river, stopped within twenty-five feet of the elven ranger. It let loose a brutal, piercing scream that shook Kallin to the core and pulled him along the ground, closer to it.
Seeing the elf on the ground, the other harpy flew to middle of the large pool of water and began singing a song. He tried to ignore the harpy’s alluring song, but couldn’t.
The harpie’s melodic voice lured Kallin to the water’s edge. Just as he was about to fall in, he slipped and fell. His head struck the ground hard, the jarring impact causing him to regain his senses.
Quickly, he took up his bow and fired at the harpy near the waterfall. His arrow struck true. With a piercing cry, the harpy plunged into the water below and disappeared from the ranger’s sight.
Meanwhile, the other harpy flew down and tried to rake him with its talons. He dodged its attack and stepped back far enough to take a shot at it. His arrow buried itself in the thing’s chest. It fell to the ground dead. Or so the ranger thought.
To Kallin’s horror, the harpy got back up on its talons. Its head drooped to one side while it hopped clumsily along the ground as if being controlled by some unseen puppeteer.
Kallin took aim and fired. This time, the harpy stayed dead.
In anticipation, Kallin turned his attention towards the waterfall. Sure enough, the harpy he had just killed earlier flew out of the water and came straight at him.
A well-placed shot stopped harpy before it could reach him.
Looking around to make sure the area was safe, Kallin carefully made his way to the other side of the river. He walked towards the north side of the waterfall. There, he found handholds and sure-footing along the cliff’s face. With some effort, Kallin was certain he can make the sixty-foot ascent to the top of the cliff.
But just as he reached the top, two more harpies flew into view. Kallin, tired but with plenty of fight left in him, made quick work of the two creatures.
After making sure that there were no more harpies in the area, Kallin looked at his surroundings. In front of him, a strangely-shaped white building stood before him. He saw strange markings carved all over the building’s walls. Something about the carvings reminding him of something, but he couldn’t place it. He spotted two door that afforded entrance to the building. A wide river—the source of the waterfall—stretched to the west as far as he could see. Across the river, he spotted other buildings, some bigger than the one nearby. All were also built at odd curving angles and were covered with similar markings.
Stranger still, he spotted a boat nearby. It was elven in design. It sat at the river’s edge not far from the building.
Knowing he had to solve the mystery of where he was, Kallin Rourke knocked another arrow and prepared to face whatever creature the Feywild was going to send his way.
Eleint 7 – 8, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
The smell of a smoldering campfire caught the attention of the group of adventurers from Longpine.
Farther along the road, the group spotted a brown canvas tent just visible within a thicket. Save for the soft rustling of leaves nearby, the area was deathly quiet.
Rowan scanned the surrounding area for any sign of an ambush. Recently, he had heard of robbers who have taken advantage of the undead scourge that had been plaguing the Eastern Vale. Some, it seemed, would willingly risk encountering undead to get their hands on a coin purse. Soldiers from Bear’s Head, now stationed in Longpine, have been patrolling the northeast road to Hluthvar, along the edge of the Reaching Wood as well as parts of the Eastern Vale to ensure that the area was safe.
Adventurers too, have been helpful in that regard. Many fortune seekers from across the Realms have been slowly making their way into the Vale. News of a horde of undead terrorizing the Sunset Vale had spread far and wide. Longpine even began selling charters to adventuring companies. Many made their way into the Vale from Longpine and were never heard from again, while some returned to the Wolf House, the only tavern in Longpine, to talk about their escapades into Death Vale, as some adventurers were starting to call the Sunset Vale.
A sudden rustling from a nearby large bush caught his attention.
“Come out, whoever you are,” Rowan yelled. He aimed his bow at where he had heard movement coming from. “No use hiding. We know you’re there.”
A man—or rather what was left of a man—came stumbling out of the thick bushes. Half of his face was missing, although parts of it were still clinging to his exposed skull. His outstretched arms looked as though they had been ripped to shreds by some powerfully clawed animal.
Immediately, Galenndan and Brandis noticed other similarly looking figures emerge out from behind bushes and nearby trees. The remains of a half-elf, its throat torn open, started walking towards the group at a slow pace. A large burly man with its bloody chain mail rent in places, ambled out from where the group saw the camping tent. An elf, his bowels half hanging out of his midsection, followed close behind. It still carried a crossbow slung over its shoulder. The others too had weapons—like longswords still sheathed—on them.
It looked as though they were surprised by someone—or something—and had died before they even had the opportunity to fight back.
“They’re zombies!” Rowan yelled.
Brandis raised his bow and fired at the nearest undead—the man with what was left of his face. The arrow flew straight and struck the thing in the leg, puncturing through its skin and then shattering bone. The zombie teetered once and collapsed on the ground.
Rowan turned and shot at another zombie and struck it in the arm. Galenndan followed up the attack by focusing his mind and unleashing a psychic attack on the zombie Rowan just shot with an arrow.
All of a sudden, everyone saw an undead creature leap out from a large pine tree a short distance away. It leaped towards another tree some forty feet away. Hanging on to a large branch, the undead growled in fury at the adventurers.
Rowan immediately recognized the creature as a ghoul.
He knew what may have turned the former adventurers into zombies. Many in the Eastern Vale had heard that a Zombie Plague was spreading across the Vale. Adventurers reported how slain comrades turned into an undead within a day or more after being attacked by an undead creature they encountered—even after they had rested and regained their strength. It became apparent that the Zombie Plague was exactly that, a disease. Some, with stronger constitutions it seemed, were able to stave off the effects of an undead attack, while others required curing spells from clerics or by the use of scrolls.
With all that in mind, Rowan can only hope that he and the others can make it through the deadly encounter unscathed.
Two zombies were now making their way down the road, while the third zombie was trampling its way through bushes to get at the adventurers.
Brandis shot one of the zombies on the road in the torso. His shot caused it to stop dead in its tracks.
Meanwhile, Rowan took two quick shots. One hit the ghoul on the tree while the other struck the zombie pushing its way through the undergrowth. The arrow struck the zombie’s arm. The shot tore the arm off and caused the zombie to spin and then drop to the ground. It never got back up again. Rowan then made his way towards the ghoul.
Back on the road, Galenndan, a sun elf psion from Iriaebor, focused on the immobilized zombie on the road. His psionic attack easily broke through the zombie’s mental defense. Galenndan then quickly sifted through what was left of the zombie’s mind for the mental representation of himself that was still within it. As soon as he found it, Galenndan brutally ripped it out!
The effect was twofold. First, it damaged a part of what was left of the thing’s brain. Second, it made him temporarily invisible to the zombie.
The ghoul up on the tree climbed down and was starting to make its way towards the adventurers.
At the same time, Brandis ordered his hawk companion to fly over the still-moving zombie on the road. The zombie tried to reach for the bird darting in and out around it. With the undead distracted, Brandis was able to get a shot in with his bow, striking it in the chest.
Rowan saw the incoming ghoul and shot it. It didn’t slow down as it tried to leap at the half-elf ranger. But, it misjudged the height of a large boulder between it and Rowan. Its legs struck the boulder in mid-leap and fell to the ground.
The zombie that was immobilized started to move again. Moaning out loud, the undead thing quickly covered the distance between it and Brandis. It clawed him as soon as it reached him.
The other zombie was also coming as fast as its torn and decomposing legs would allow.
Brandis, hurt by the zombie’s attack, took a careful step back and shot past it, striking the other zombie in the leg as it was making its way towards Galenndan. The zombie moaned and nearly fell, but it lurched forward, intent on making a meal out of the psion.
Brandis took another action and shot at the same zombie. He struck it in the leg again. This time it did fall to the ground. But, to his surprise, the zombie was still desperately clawing its way forward.
Rowan quickly moved up to the ghoul as it rose. From a few feet away, the half-elven ranger pulled back at his bowstring with all of his might and shot two arrows at the thing’s chest. Both arrows buried themselves to the fletching. Rowan then took a careful step back while he kept his bow trained at the ghoul in front of him.
The ghoul desperately tried to move and reach for the ranger who—to the ghoul’s surprise—quickly fired yet another arrow. The arrow struck the ghoul, again in the torso. But this time, the arrow kept going. It broke through the thing’s ribcage and severed the spine as it continued its deadly flight through the ghoul.
With the surprised look frozen in its face, the ghoul fell face-first on the ground at Rowan’s feet.
Galenndan, trying to avoid the zombie that had reached him, fey-stepped on top of a nearby boulder. The zombie, momentarily having lost its meal, looked around. It saw the elf on top of a nearby boulder and ambled over. It tried to claw at Galenndan’s leg but missed as the elf kicked its arms away. Galendan retaliated with a psychic mind thrust that hurt but did not kill the zombie.
Brandis aimed his bow at the zombie who moments earlier was on the ground. It had just stood up when Brandis shot it in the leg. His arrow shattered its left knee. Its useless leg gave out and the zombie fell to the ground, never to rise again.
Rowan quickly looked around and saw the zombie desperately trying to claw at Galenndan who was standing on top of a boulder. He knocked another arrow and fired. The arrow sped towards the zombie and struck it in the torso. It fell on the grass in front of the boulder.
With the battle against the undead won, the group searched the area.
They searched the zombies and found coins on them. They rummaged through the tents and found an adventuring charter that was recently purchased from Longpine. It had the stamp of Bear’s Head on it. The charter stated that the adventuring company known as The Company of the Broken Blessing had just recently formed and were going into the Sunset Vale.
They were novices, Rowan thought. They never stood a chance against the more powerful ghoul.
Their search also yielded an enchanted shield. On the elven zombie, they discovered a map showing a huge forest with a portal of some sort drawn on it. Two words were written above the drawn portal: Shadow Gate.
They then gathered the undead bodies together and burned them, lest they somehow return to harm other travelers.
When all was done, the group returned to Longpine to rest and recover.
Along the way, all knew that Brandis had been struck by a zombie during the battle. They wondered if he had contracted the Zombie Plague. But they all knew that only time would tell if their worst fear would be realized.
Will Brandis turn into an undead?
100 gp, 200 sp, and +1 light shield
Eleint 2, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
The elven boat made its way downriver closer to the ruins. The forest, with its vibrant colors, surrounded the river on both sides.
From the boat, the group could clearly make out the ruins with its stark-white walls. One building stood on the east side of the river, while more ruins stood on the west side. Every building was a single-story structure that was spread out over a large area.
They also saw an old wooden bridge that spanned the river just north of the ruins. Just passed the bridge, they also spotted a stone column rising out from the center of the river. The column, some thirty feet high, was topped by a large iron sphere.
From where they were, everyone could hear the distant roar of a waterfall farther down the river, just beyond the ruins.
“There,” Luthan said pointing to a spot along the river’s eastern edge just passed the wooden bridge. “We can beach the boat there and explore the structure on that side of the river first.”
Monro gripped the tiller and guided the boat towards shore.
No sooner had the boat stopped when everyone heard loud screeching coming from the east, above and beyond the structure before them.
Everyone immediately looked up and spotted two winged females flying towards them. Their arms ended in wicked claws, while their legs ended in sharp talons. With each flap of their large, powerful wings, the creatures were quickly making their way towards the group.
To Luthan, a ranger by profession, the female creatures were as beautiful as they were terrifying.
Most in the group recognized the approaching creatures as harpies—one of the most deadliest creatures of the feywild.
Patch knocked an arrow and aimed his greatbow at the closest harpy. He let loose an arrow that struck it in the chest. The harpy screamed in pain, nearly dropping in flight. But it beat its wings once and dove towards the awaiting group. It was quickly closing the gap between it and the adventurers. Patch quickly jumped off the boat and waded onto shore.
Jobek, seeing the fast approaching harpy, shot at it with his bow. His arrow tore into the creature’s leg. Undaunted, the injured harpy soared past the boat, turned, and hovered some fifteen feet from the boat, above the river.
The other harpy shot past the bow of the boat and it too, turned to face the adventurers while hovering above the river.
Patch, safely on shore, shot again at the harpy he struck earlier. A second arrow sprouted from the creature’s leg.
Jobek also took a shot, but his aim was off. His arrow zipped past the creature, which screeched at the dwarf in anger.
Meanwhile, the uninjured harpy let loose a brutal scream. Like a peal of thunder, the harpy’s scream reverberated through wood and bones alike. Only Patch, who was safely off the boat, didn’t suffer any painful effects from the harpy’s cream. Quickly taking advantage of the injured Fredara, the harpy focused her scream at her, forcing the human fighter to stumble and fall into the river where she quickly went under.
Luthan, his ears still ringing from the attack, fired his bow at the hovering harpy—and struck it.
For the next several breaths, both sides fought each other. One harpy was killed in short order, thanks to the powerful range attacks brought on by everyone, like Monro who struck it with a radiant beacon of light.
But the other harpy proved far more formidable than the first. It used its alluring song to coax people into the river. Some, like Luthan and Monro nearly drowned or were nearly swept downriver towards the waterfall.
At one point in the encounter, Patch found himself risking his life by jumping into the fast-flowing river and swimming after anyone unfortunate enough to be lured into the river by the harpy’s song.
To add to the danger, the iron sphere whirred to life—perhaps activated by the proximity of the adventurers to the obelisk and sphere. The large iron “eye” on top of the stone column opened. A white ray of light flared then streaked towards the unsuspecting adventurers fighting the remaining harpy.
Those struck by the iron eye’s ray found themselves moving slower, their muscles aching with each strained step. And to the group’s horror, the sphere completely ignored the harpy and shot its ray only at them!
And moments after being shot by the ray, Luthan went unconscious. Fortunately, he was on shore, exactly where Patch had dragged him to after rescuing him from the river.
While the others continued to fight the remaining harpy, Patch—using his enchanted boots that allowed him to tread on water—made a dash for the obelisk. When he reached it, he began to climb, forcing his fingers into thin cracks along the column’s slick surface while finding footholds wherever he could.
Within a few moments, Patch had nearly reached the top of the column just as his friends had finally slain the remaining harpy. The creature fell into the river and was quickly swept downriver. Seconds later, everyone saw the harpy’s lifeless body disappear over the waterfall.
With every ounce of strength he could muster, Patch pulled himself up and stood precariously on top of the iron sphere. He almost lost his balance when he made the mistake of looking down at the river, some thirty feet below him. Focusing on his balance, Patch unsheathed his sword and brought it down hard on the iron sphere he stood upon.
Jobek, safely on shore, shot but missed the sphere since he was trying to avoid hitting his friend, Patch. Luthan having awakened from the effects of sleep brought on by the ray that struck him earlier, shot and struck the sphere. At the same time, Monro moved his beacon of light and shone its radiant beam directly on top of the sphere. Although it seared the iron sphere, it did nothing but illuminate Patch on top of it. To the others, the elven fighter shone like some epic heroic figure from a chapter book they had read as children.
Orva, the gnome arcanist, shot a scintillating bolt at the eye, while Vyn threw his shield at it, leaving a dent on the sphere’s surface. Just as before, the shield boomeranged back to Vyn.
Suddenly, the eye beneath Patch began to glow brightly. The fighter knew what was going to happen next.
Keeping his grip on his sword which was deeply imbedded in the sphere, Patch leaned back as far as he could. He nearly slipped and fell when a brilliant shaft of light suddenly shot straight up—just missing him by mere inches!
Regaining his balance, Patch saw the others attack the sphere from where they stood at the river’s edge. Arrows and a wildly spinning shield whizzed past Patch and the sphere. Only Monro’s beacon of light damaged the eye as Patch planted his feet firmly on the sphere to keep his balance as the iron sphere spun beneath him to face his allies below.
A ray of light suddenly shot straight towards his friends. Fortunately the ray did not seem to have affected anyone.
This has to end now, Patch thought.
Pulling with all his might, Patch freed the sword from the sphere and then brought its sharp point straight down into it. The blade bit deep. Sparks flew as wires and oil-filled tubes were cut.
With a final twist of his blade, Patch destroyed the iron sphere.
Curios, Patch examined the eye. Using what knew of the arcane, he determined that the sphere was a magical construct, as he suspected. The etched runes that covered the sphere, and even the tubes inside, further indicated that the eye’s ray caused anyone struck by it to suffer effects from sleep-like magic.
Patch was just glad it was all over.
Below him, the others cheered in triumph at having successfully slain two harpies and a magical construct.
To Patch, it was just another day in the life of an adventurer.
Back on shore, everyone caught their breaths and congratulated everyone for fighting well. In particular, everyone praised Patch for his heroic act of climbing the stone column and destroying the iron sphere.
With the deadly encounter over, the group turned their attention to the building before them.
The wide building was stark-white in color. Symbols and words—or rather names were engraved onto its surface in a random pattern. Everyone noted that the names were all written in elven and were in fact, elven names.
As the group carefully scrutinized the names and symbols, a sudden and horrifying thought occurred to them.
“Are these—” Vyn began to ask.
“—gravestones?” Monro finished for the drow paladin of Mielikki. “Indeed, Vyn. I do believe they are.”
“By Moradin’s beard,” Jobek swore as he walked up to touch the structure. “The entire building is made up of gravestones mortared together. No dwarf would have built such a foul thing.”
“And no elf either, I can assure you.” Monro said.
“There must be hundreds of elven gravestones here.” Fredara said.
A sudden realization swept across the entire group. As one, they turned around and looked across the river to far side. There, they saw even larger structures built similarly with white elven gravestones. Thousands of gravestones. Enough to fill a cemetery the size of a town.
It seemed as though an entire cemetery had been turned into a madman’s architectural creation.
Turning back, the group walked to the closed wooden door that afforded entrance to the building. They found it unlocked. They walked in and saw that it was as strange inside as it was outside. Walls were built with sharp angles and curves that disappeared into shadowy recesses.
Inside, the group saw a lit brazier suspended from the ceiling. It swung around like a pendulum above a sundial, and offered the only illumination in the otherwise dark interior.
The brazier’s oscillation caused the sundial’s shadow to move quickly across the hours carved into it. To the group, the rapidly moving shadows seemed to suggest that time was moving at a fast pace in the room.
The group suddenly heard a soft whimper come from around a nearby corner.
When they approached, they saw an eladrin woman manacled to the walls. She looked disheveled.
As the group approached, the woman leaned forward. “Oh please, help me!” she pleaded. “The others were captured and taken, while I was brought here instead. I’ve heard that I am to be sacrificed!” She began to cry for joy at the sight of her would-be rescuers.
“Who are you and what others?” Patch asked. He looked closely at the manacles that held the woman’s wrists closely together. Something about them looked odd to the fighter. To him, the manacles looked…fake.
“We were traveling through the woods when several strange flying creatures—women with wings like birds—swooped in and attacked us. One of my companions was killed, while the others ran. I ran for cover. I saw the others get snatched up and taken away.”
“So how did you come to be here?” Monro inquired.
Patch turned to the others. “My friends, let’s step to the side and discuss something before—”
The fighter didn’t get a chance to finish what he was saying.
Suddenly, the woman pulled her arms apart. The manacles easily snapped away from her wrists.
As the group stepped back, they were horrified to see the woman’s image transform before them. Her legs melted away to form hundreds of beetles that swarmed over each other. Her arm, too, became an appendage made up of hundreds of scuttling beetles.
The eladrin woman had become a thing straight out of their worst nightmare—a lamia.
Luthan Graythicket (male half-elf ranger companion, from Elturgard), Orva (female gnome arcanist companion, from the Feywild)
Eleint 8, 1479, Year of the Ageless One
The plan was simple enough.
But as the great dwarven writer from Luruar, Jonn Steinbeckoned, once wrote, “The best laid plans of dire mice or men can often go cockeyed.” And soon enough, the Company of the Siren’s Song was going to find out just how “cockeyed” things could get.
Everyone knew they were walking right into a trap.
But the plan was to spring the trap that Breeanan said was being laid for the adventurers. Everyone agreed to play along in the hopes that Vrikus, the ghoul lord, would free Breeanan and her daughter, Sahra, if she followed Vrikus’s command to lure the adventurers into the trap.
At least everyone hoped that Vrikus would keep his word.
The halfling ranger, Deb, along with Therand took a good look at the street they were all on.
To them, it looked like a perfect place for an ambush. There was a small tunnel entrance on the east-side of the street just before where the street suddenly disappeared into the center of town—or rather what was left of the center of town. The tunnel, based on how it connected a tower and a house, suggested that it may serve as an entrance to a courtyard or may lead to another street.
At the end of the street to the north stood a large two-story building. The sign in front of it—that of an earth elemental holding a foaming mug of ale—proclaimed it as The Stone Brewery. Everyone immediately remembered the fine ale—The Defiant Bastard’s Ale—that was brewed from The Stone Brewery and was then exported to many places across the Realms, including the town of Bear’s Head.
Meanwhile, a single-story building, Hluthvar Merchants’ Guild Hall—as the sign above its door indicated—cordoned off the street to the west.
Just as they saw earlier, the town’s center which they suspected served as a marketplace or an area for gathering and hearing the latest news in the Vale, had long ago sunk into the ground. Now, a large gaping hole dominated the center of Hluthvar.
From about a block away, everyone could see that the hole was at least twenty feet deep and very wide—perhaps nearly a hundred feet judging from what they could see of the northern part of town. There, they spotted other buildings—homes and businesses—standing precariously at the pit’s edge.
While the others walked towards the pit’s edge, Deb and Therand stealthily made their way down a narrow street to the east. The halfling went around a large building and squeezed his way through a narrow gap between the building and an adjacent house. There, he stopped and peeked around a corner. He saw a small courtyard. He could also see the tunnel entrance and the street beyond where his fellow adventurers were. A small pine tree stood in the courtyard’s center. He carefully scanned the courtyard and the surrounding rooftops.
He spotted four ghouls. Three were laying flat on rooftops, while one was crouched in the shadows above the tunnel entrance overlooking the street below. He then heard movement above. He realized a fifth ghoul was on the roof above him.
It was a perfect place for an ambush!
Deb held his right hand, palm up, behind him. Therand came around the corner and saw the halfling. He also saw Deb’s signal for him to stop.
Meanwhile, back in the street where the others were, Breeanan ran ahead of the rest of the group as they kept walking. Everyone’s weapons were drawn, ready for anything. All looked around—carefully scanning rooftops, hidden niches, and shadowy doorways where a ghoul could lay in wait. The early morning shadows afforded impossibly dark areas where ghouls can easily hide.
Caldreas, the eladrin mage, made his way forward. He stopped by a horse that lay dead on the street. Its belly was torn open; it’s innards were spilled out and was torn in pieces. It looked to Caldreas like it had been dead nearly two tendays. He continued to look around, paying careful attention to the shadowy areas where he suspected ghouls would be hiding.
It was then that he spotted nearly a dozen ghouls above them, on rooftops on either side of the street and on top of the brewery.
Their group was surrounded!
As one, all the ghouls came out of hiding. They bared their fangs and growled at the adventurers as they leaped upon the adventurers.
Everyone found themselves fighting a ghoul. No one was spared the horrific onslaught from the undead.
Lo-kag, the barbarian from the Sunset Mountains, reacted quickly. He sliced at an incoming ghoul. The other hurled itself at him from a nearby rooftop. Fortunately, it missed him, instead landing next to the goliath. The ghoul hissed in anger, its tongue lolling out as if trying to taste the goliath’s flesh.
Ang fared the worst. He quickly found himself surrounded by several ghouls. Two had knocked him to the ground and were clawing at him. He desperately tried to fend them off.
The soldiers from Darkhold, Taerin and Leoneiros, tried to hold out against the ghouls’ attacks. Two teamed up against one ghoul while Winslow, the paladin of Amaunator, was busy fending off a ghoul on his own. From where they fought, they saw Ang fall and was immediately surrounded by a throng of undead intent on feasting on him.
Caldreas immediately let loose a fireball at the ghouls attacking Ang. He aimed it at a spot that would ensure that the elf would not be harmed by the spell’s deadly burst.
Meanwhile, as the ghouls from the courtyard made their attacks against the others, Deb fired at the tower’s front door. His arrows struck the door’s hinges and broke down the door. The halfling ranger, with Therand following close behind, dashed for the doorway and quickly entered the tower. He found himself standing in a small living room. Nearby, he saw stairs leading up and quickly ran up the stairs. Therand entered the tower and followed after Deb.
On the tower’s second floor, Deb entered a bedroom and quickly made his way to the window overlooking the street where his comrades where fighting for their lives. “Therand, make your way to the next floor!”, Deb yelled.
Therand ran past, running up to the third floor. He pushed open a door and found himself in a study or a library. Various books and scrolls of all sizes filled shelves or were strewn about on the floor. Therand quickly made his way to a nearby window. He opened it and looked down at the carnage below. “I’m in position,” he yelled down to where Deb was. “Let’s rain death down upon these ghouls!”
Deb smiled. Both he and Therand let loose a volley of death upon the unsuspecting ghouls below.
Lo-kag held his own against the two ghouls in front of him. He struck one in the leg, nearly severing the creature’s leg off. Not stopping, the goliath struck the other ghoul as well.
From the other side of the street, Taerin, screams in pain as a ghoul clawed at him, while nearby, a ghoul was busy trying to get through Caldreas’s defensive spells without any success.
Lying on the ground, Ang swung his weapon in a deadly arc that struck at every ghoul surrounding him. Unfortunately, his strikes weren’t enough to drop any of them. Suddenly Ang screamed. He felt an intense surge of pain as a ghoul bit down hard on his ankle. He felt the thing’s sharp fangs tear through leather and skin, finally stopping at his bone. He screamed again as another ghoul bore down upon him, biting off a chunk of flesh from his leg. The world began to spin as intense pain wracked his body and threatened to overwhelm him.
Caldreas, unscathed, casted a spell at three nearby ghouls. Mirrors suddenly appeared in front of them. Runes of magic flowed through the mirrors’ reflective surfaces. Three ghouls found themselves staring at the mirrors as intense pain assaulted their will. To the mage, he knew his spell had forced the ghouls to see themselves in a maze of mirrors, desperately and painfully trying to find their way out.
From the nearby tower’s second-story window, Deb continued to shoot at the ghouls surrounding Ang who was still being pinned down by two ghouls. Unbelievably, Deb saw the elf desperately trying to attack the ghouls on him, even managing to kill a ghoul. Deb also spotted Winslow who was only a few strides from the fallen elf. The paladin was too busy fighting a ghoul, which had just struck him, to offer any assistance. If only someone—like Lo-kag—could get to Ang, he thought. Perhaps then, Ang may have a chance.
Then Deb saw something that he couldn’t believe was happening.
He saw Lo-kag suddenly stop fighting. Deb saw the goliath run past a ghoul that clawed at him. Lo-kag ignored the ghoul’s attack and sprinted down the street towards the center of Hluthvar. What he saw next was beyond belief. As soon as Lo-kag reached the pit’s edge, he leaped through the air and fell into the pit, disappearing out of sight.
“Did you see that?” Therand yelled from above. “What in the Nine Hells is going on?”
Deb couldn’t even begin to explain what he had just witnessed.
In the streets below, the battle raged on. Everyone was fighting for their lives.
A final scream from the critically wounded Ang echoed in the street. The smell of blood drove the remaining ghouls into a frenzy. Some, like the one on Winslow, desperately tried to get at the fallen elf. Winslow struck at the creature, nearly severing its arm off, but the creature—drooling in hunger—leaped upon the mortally wounded elf on the ground.
Ang’s dying scream was drowned out as the feral ghouls feasted upon his elven flesh.
Another terrified scream tore through the street as Arroway, who moments before was helping Lo-kag suddenly found himself face-to-face with two ghouls.
Below, in the pit, Lo-kag found himself lying on top of a dead horse. He was in pain. He cleared his head and tried to recall what had happened.
He remembered hearing a voice whispering in his ear. He realized it was the enchanted helm he wore. It had been quiet for so long that he almost forgot it was sentient. The helm had served him well in many battles since he acquired it. The silver helm had glowing red tracery amid silver filigree. As Lo-kag moved his head, the red glow flowed through the tracery as if it were liquid.
He also knew it had a darker side to it. He vividly remembered hearing of mysterious fires that destroyed homes and businesses wherever he had traveled in the past. It was only after he left those places that the dreams came to him. In his dreams, he saw himself standing in front of a house while it burned. A sense of satisfaction and pride filled those disturbing dreams each time. He always wondered if somehow, he had caused the mysterious fires, but the helm was strangely silent about such things when he asked it.
No one suspected Lo-kag of any wrongdoings, but his friends noticed how he seemed obsessed with the helm. Some wondered if it were a cursed thing. And despite urges and pleas from his fellow adventurers, Lo-kag would not part with the helm. It strengthened his attacks and even caused psychic pain on his enemies. To the goliath, the helm was a part of what made him deadly. And he wasn’t about to let anyone change that.
Why did you do that? Lo-kag whispered to his helm. Why did you take me out of battle? You just jeopardized my friends.
The helm’s whispered response was cold and without remorse. I just wanted to see how well your friends could fight without you, that’s all. Don’t worry. It they are truly your friends, they’ll forgive you. Now pay attention! We may not be alone down here.
Sure enough, the helm was right. A loud, low moan caught the goliath’s attention. Looking up from where he lay on top of the horse, Lo-kag saw a hulking shape coming at him. The creature resembled an overly bloated man with pieces of fatty flesh still clinging to it. It lumbered as it ran to him.
Instead of getting up, Lo-kag waited for the zombie to come to him.
He attacked it as soon as it came to within striking distance. Despite fighting from the ground, Lo-kag struck a serious blow to the creature.
The undead monstrosity struck back hard, slamming both of its fists into the goliath. Already hurt by the fall, Lo-kag was reeling in pain as the creature tried to slam him again. Fortunately, it missed.
Back up on the street, Caldreas, free of any ghouls upon him, ran to where the street had fallen into the pit. He saw Lo-kag below, some distance away. A zombie of some sort was attacking the barbarian. Immediately, the mage brought a spell to mind.
A shimmering gate formed of arcane magic appeared next to the prone goliath. A second gate appeared a few feet from Caldreas. “Lo-kag!” Caldreas yelled. “Enter the gate and it will bring you back up here.”
Meanwhile, the battle on the street behind Caldreas was coming to an end. Former Zhentarim soldiers and members of the Company of the Siren’s Song fought with tenacity, despite having lost two of their own.
Deb, from his window, yelled for everyone to retreat as the last ghoul was slain. People were hurt, and two had died. The others quickly helped drag the dead bodies of Ang and Arroway back to the jailhouse.
Both Deb and Therand went to rejoin the others.
Caldreas ran past Deb as Lo-kag emerged out of the arcane gate. The gate disappeared a second later.
With everyone safely making their way back to the jailhouse, Deb made his way to the pit’s edge. He spotted the zombie-thing below. He took shots at it. Within moments, it was on the ground—having been slain by the ranger’s deadly barrage.
Before Deb left to rejoin the others, he yelled a curse at Breeanan whom he figured entered Vrikus’s lair somewhere below. He cursed her out loud for leading them into a trap. He cursed Vrikus too.
He hoped the ruse would be enough to help Breeanan get her daughter back.
Inside the jailhouse, everyone tried to catch their breaths and heal themselves.
After, everyone immediately began arguing with Lo-kag about what happened. During the argument, they overheard Lo-kag talking to no one in particular, but they soon suspected he was talking to the helm.
Lo-kag, after hearing the helm whisper an apology and a promise not to do it again, defended his actions and told the others not to worry about him nor the helm. The others weren’t entirely convinced.
Meanwhile, as Winslow was trying to determine what happens to those slain by ghouls, the answer became obvious.
Ang—or rather what was Ang—let out a feral growl as it tried to grab at Winslow. The ghoul that was Arroway also attacked. The others quickly engaged the two ghouls.
The battle was fast and furious. Deb had slain Ang/ghoul with a well-placed arrow to its head, while Leoneiros destroyed Arroway/ghoul with his longsword.
As what remained of the group surrounded their fallen comrades, everyone became sadly aware of the reality of what had just happened—especially those from the Company of the Siren’s Song.
They had just lost their dear friend, Ang…forever.
NOTE: At the end of this gaming session, our campaign lost one of our original characters, Ang.
Arroway, the former Zhentarim soldier was also lost. Both were slain by ghouls during the deadly encounter, became ghouls after and attacked the group. The others had no choice but to slay them.
We mourn the loss of Ang, one of LotR’s finest character. Read about his great legacy that goes back to, What Transpired Before the Spellplague.
Ang’s presence in the campaign will be sadly missed.
Breeanan (citizen of Hluthvar), Taerin, Leoneiros, and Arroway (former Zhentarim soldiers)